The Revival of Rhomaion: An Age of Miracles

Link to discussion thread: An Age of Miracles

The Revival of Rhomaion

Part 1: 1204-1403

An Age of Miracles

“Blessed are we above all men, for we live in an age of miracles,”-John XII Cosmas, Patriarch of Constantinople, August 29, 1300.

1204: Constantinople, the richest and most populous city in Christendom, as well as the capital of the Roman Empire, falls to the forces of the Fourth Crusade. The city is brutally sacked and many of its inhabitants raped and slaughtered by the soldiers of Christ. From the ashes the Latin Empire is formed, although three Greek states arise from the territories unconquered by the Crusaders. They are Trebizond, Epirus, and Nicaea.

1221: Theodoros II Laskaris is born, son of John III Vatatzes, and is a healthy infant, not inheriting the epilepsy of his father. (Point of divergence)

1243: The Seljuk Sultanate of Rum suffers a crushing defeat at the hands of the Mongols at Kose Dag. The Sultanate is forced to pay a substantial tribute. However the main loss is not money, but the power and prestige of the sultan. With the destruction of most of his army, his authority over his outlying territories begin to dwindle, with thoughts of independence arising amidst the emirs.

1254: Theodoros II Laskaris becomes Emperor of Nicaea after the death of his father. By this time the Latin Empire is reduced to just Constantinople and the surrounding territories, although its vassals control the Peloponnesus and Attica. Venice controls Crete and most of the Aegean islands.

1254-1260: A Bulgarian invasion of Nicene Europe is defeated while a marriage alliance is contracted with Epirus. Nicaea is the most powerful state in the southern Balkans, but does not advance on Constantinople which is well guarded by the Venetian fleet.

Instead Theodoros and his trusted advisor, George Muzalon, work through a series of major reforms, many of which were started by his father. The main goal is the creation of a native Greek army backed by foreign mercenaries, rather than mercenaries forming the bulk of the army. Many soldiers are given lands, who pay for them by serving in the Nicene army. The majority are Greek but there are also many Cuman immigrants from Europe, who are settled on the eastern frontier.

Further aiding this development is the crippling of the Seljuk Sultanate by the Mongols. Not only was Seljuk military might significantly reduced, but also the Seljuks are forced to purchase many of their goods in Nicene territory, providing substantial revenue for the imperial coffers. The money is used to improve the pay and equipment of the army and also to raise the salaries of officials to reduce corruption. To increase loyalty to himself, Theodoros and George appoint low born officials who owe everything to the emperor.

1261: Angered by Theodoros’ policies, many of the Nicene nobles rise up in revolt. Their leader is Michael Palaeologus, a skilled general who had been under suspicion for some time. An attempted assassination of Theodoros fails, so the nobles raise an army. It is composed mainly of the nobles’ retainers and the Latin mercenaries, who are angered by Theodoros’ pro-Greek policies. The new soldiers created by Theodoros, both Greek and Cuman, overwhelmingly side with him.

On May 10, the two armies meet outside Cyzicus. The Latin mercenaries charge the Imperial lines despite Michael’s efforts to restrain them. However they charge over broken ground which breaks up the charge. The Cumans dart around the flanks, pouring waves of arrows into them, while the Imperial Greek infantry and cavalry smash into their front. For a short while they fight bravely but soon break under the ferocious assault of the Greeks. Theodoros’ army improvements show in the way his Greek forces are able to best a Latin army in pitched battle, contrary to the experiences of the Fourth Crusade.

Viewing the destruction of the Latins, the remaining rebel forces begin to flee. The Cuman attacks soon turn the retreat into the rout. Michael is killed attempting to rally his forces, his head delivered to Theodoros by a Cuman soldier. The soldier is rewarded with an equal weight in gold. With much of its leadership dead, the rebellion collapses. Theodoros confiscates the dead nobles’ land, using it to help pay for heavily armored cavalry, equal to western knights, called kataphraktoi. The nobles that survived are stripped of most their land, some of which Theodoros keeps and the rest is used to further expand the army.

As Theodoros cleans up the rebellion, the Seljuks chose this opportunity to invade the Empire. Theodoros’ army swings south, annihilating a Seljuk army near Philadelphia. Another Seljuk force retreats after raiding Bithynia, suffering heavy losses from the local troops. Smaller Seljuk bands do succeed in ravaging the Meander river valley for some time, before Theodoros annihilates a few of them in a pitched battle in August.

1262-1265: Theodoros is outraged by the Seljuk attempt to profit from the noble rebellion. All thoughts on taking Constantinople are forgotten as Nicaea prepares to punish the Turks. The year of 1262 is spent in defensive actions as Seljuk forces attempt to penetrate the frontier. Some succeed to perform minor pillaging, but Turkish losses are high. Meanwhile along the coast the Nicene fleet is expanded to include 120 vessels.

In 1263 the counterattack begins. The Nicene fleet divides in two, one force moving along the coast of northern Anatolia, the other along the southern coast. Theodoros himself moves up the Sangarius River, defeating a Turkish army near Dorylaeum. By the end of the year Sinope, Amorium, and Attaleia have all fallen to the Greeks.

The next year sees Turkish resistance intensify, mainly in the interior. Paphlagonia is almost entirely cleared of Turks by winter, while the southern Anatolian coast is taken as far east as the mouth of the Lamis. Theodoros attempts to march on Iconium, and although he wins two battles with the Turks, his heavy casualties force him to delay his plans. At the same time the Constantinople Latins attempt to raid Nicene Thrace but are ambushed by the local Cumans and largely wiped out.

On April 27 Theodoros crushes an army led by the Sultan himself, allowing him to invest Iconium, which falls three weeks later. During the siege Trebizond attempts to take Sinope by surprise but fails. A week after the fall of Iconium the Empire and the Sultanate make peace. The new border goes from the mouth of the Lamis river northwest to the Lake of 40 Martyrs, then north to the beginning of the Sangarius. It then follows the Sangarius until the point where it is closest to the Halys. The border then goes east to the Halys, where it follows the river to the Black Sea. Ancyra is just south of the line between the Sangarius and Halys and remains Turkish. Nicene territory in Anatolia is almost doubled.

1266: A combined land-sea force attacks the Empire of Trebizond. The city itself falls in July and the entire state is annexed by Nicaea. The Emperor of Trebizond is somewhat compensated by a new estate near Nicaea. In Italy Charles of Anjou attempts to invade the Kingdom of Sicily, ruled by Manfred Hohenstaufen. Charles is defeated at the Battle of Benevento and forced to retreat from Italy. However it is well known that he will try again.

1267-1268: In France Charles of Anjou licks his wounds and rebuilds his army. Theodoros works to repopulate Anatolia, settling Cumans and Greeks on the frontier. Many Turkish tribesmen, impressed by Nicene victories, convert to Christianity and join the Nicene army. Theodoros settles them in Europe, where it is doubtful they will be forced to fight other Turks. He also continues to enlarge the navy, in preparation for an assault on Constantinople. To help guard against Venice, he asks Epirus to hand over Dyrrachium. They do so grudgingly.

1269: Epirus, Thessaly, Athens, and Achaia, the remaining states in Greece, form an alliance to combat Nicaea. Combined they can assemble a powerful army with a large corps of Latin heavy cavalry, but mistrust and rivalries between the allies hamper cooperation. At Pelagonia the allied army is shattered, partly through the defection of the Thessalian army and the premature withdrawal of the Epirote one.

After the battle, Thessaly becomes a Nicene vassal. Epirus is completely overrun, the Despot killed in battle in September. Nicene attempts to invade Attica are hampered by the Venetians of Negroponte, which lead to several inconclusive clashes with the Nicene fleet. At the same time Charles invades Italy again, only to be defeated again at the Battle of Capua. He is forced to flee back to France a second time.

1270-1271: A truce is signed between the various Balkan states. The Nicene border now is at the Sperchius river. Theodoros focuses his attention on Anatolia, where minor Turkish raids have resumed along the frontier.

1272: A Nicene army skirts the edges of Constantinople in an attempt to frighten the Latins, only to learn that the garrison and Venetian fleet is away attacking the Nicene island of Daphnusia. The army sneaks into the city and captures it with almost no bloodshed. When the Venetian fleet returns, the sailors see their homes in flames and their families huddled along the shore. They load their families and flee to Negroponte, many of the refugees dying from lack of provisions along the way.

Charles of Anjou invades Italy for the third time and is victorious at the Battle of Naples. Manfred’s mainland dominions are quickly captured although Manfred himself retreats to Sicily to rebuild his strength.

1273-1274: Theodoros, styling himself as the new Constantine, works to rebuild dilapidated Constantinople. He also is crowned as Emperor again, but this time as Emperor of the Romans. Turkish raids continue in Anatolia, but are fiercely contested by the Roman army. War also continues with Venice in a series of naval actions. The Genoese Licario, in Roman employ, overruns many of the smaller Aegean islands.

1275-1276: In early 1275 the Empire launches a massive invasion of Latin Greece. The massively outnumbered Latins are swept aside and by the end of the year, only Venetian Modon and Coron remain out of Roman hands. Licario succeeds in taking Negroponte the next year, and Naxos shortly after that. In Italy, Manfred is killed in an attempt to recapture Taranto. Charles of Anjou is now King of Sicily and his appetite for further conquest leads him to look east.

1277-1282: A mass uprising in Crete against the Venetians allows the Empire to conquer the island. However Modon and Coron, well supplied by the Venetian fleet, continue to hold out. Venice offers an alliance to Charles to assist in his planned attack on Constantinople. However he is distracted by the invasion of Conradin Hohenstaufen. Conradin is defeated at Tagliacozza but retreats back to Germany.

Hungary invades Dalmatia in 1278, forcing Venice to fight on two fronts against Hungary and Byzantium. With ships devoted to the Dalmatian theater, the ability of the Venetian fleet to continue provisioning Modon and Coron is in doubt. Reluctantly Venice offers peace terms, although a treaty is not signed until March 1279. Venice is allowed to maintain control of Modon and Coron, as well as the Aegean islands of Kythera, Patmos, and Syra. All other Venetian territories in the Aegean basin are signed over to Constantinople. Venice is allowed to regain its old quarter in Constantinople, but all Venetian merchants are required to pay a five percent import/export duty. While still half of the normal fee paid by others, the Venetians have gotten used to paying none. They are also barred from the Black Sea.

Sporadic skirmishes continues on the Anatolian frontier. The military debacles of the thirteenth centuries from both the hands of the Greeks and Mongols mean that the Seljuk sultan has increasingly little control of his subjects. Annoyed by these raids, Theodoros takes Ancyra in May 1279 and installs a garrison. Cumans are dispatched into Seljuk territory in a series of counterraids.

However in October his attention is wrenched to Europe. On October 2, 1279, Charles of Anjou annihilates Conradin’s army at the Second Battle of Benevento. Conradin is killed rallying his troops, ending the Hohenstaufen dynasty (he had two children, a boy and a girl, but they both died before they were six months old). Charles of Anjou is now supreme in Italy. His court also harbors many refugees from the Latin states now overrun by Byzantium.

Charles makes careful arrangements for his invasion of the Empire. Pisa is forced into an alliance with Charles and Venice joins with the promise of regaining all its lost territories and trading privileges. Charles also is able to induce Hungary to end its failed invasion of Dalmatia. When news of the alliance reaches Constantinople the few inhabitants of the Venetian quarter are arrested and their property confiscated. Modon and Coron are again placed under siege, but remained supplied by the Venetian fleet.

He turns to Genoa for support. Genoa is offered Venice’s old quarter and Genoese merchants will only have to pay a token two percent import/export duty. The Byzantine emperor will also encourage the Tatar khan to allow the Genoese to establish a colony in Kaffa. Furthermore in exchange for Genoese naval support in the attacks on Modon and Coron, the two cities will be handed over to Genoa, although the Commune will have to pay an annual rent of 16,000 hyperpyra. Genoa accepts and the combined Byzantine-Genoese fleets are able to starve the two cities out in the summer of 1280. At the same time the Venetian Aegean islands fall to Licario.

The next year sees sporadic naval actions in the Adriatic sea. Venice’s fleet mainly focuses on keeping the enemy out of the Adriatic while Charles is reluctant to commit his own vessels until his grand fleet is complete. Thus Greek ships are sometimes able to raid the shores of Italy itself. In September 1281 a squadron of Roman warships raiding Apulia is approached by citizens of Bari, which is still inhabited by large numbers of Greeks. They offer to hand the city over to Theodoros. The squadron commander Thomas Komnenos, who conquered Corfu eight months earlier, accepts, quickly garrisoning the city without bloodshed. He then rushes over to Epirus, stripping many of the garrisons to bolster the force at Bari.

Charles is outraged at this and places Bari under a land blockade. He demands more exactions from Sicily, increasing dissent there, in his urge to get his fleet ready. His relations with Venice are also souring, as Venice is impatient to see some gains from the war in which it has lost what little it had been able to keep in the treaty of 1279.

On March 30, a French soldier is killed for molesting a Sicilian woman in Palermo just after Vespers. The incident sparks a mass revolt called the Sicilian Vespers. Nearly all of Charles’ armada is burned at Messina three days later. The king of Aragon Peter I, who has claims on the island through his Hohenstaufen wife, is invited to take control in May. Charles flies into a rage, going to Bari to order an immediate assault. It almost succeeds, but is thrown back with massive casualties. Charles offers peace in exchange for getting back Bari and Corfu. Theodoros demands Bari and Corfu in return for peace, although he offers a payment of 90,000 hyperpyra. With Aragonese squadrons raiding Italy, Charles is forced to accept.

For the first time in two hundred years, Byzantium has a foothold in Italy. But Theodoros does not get to enjoy his triumph for long. On November 19, 1282, he dies at the age of sixty one. He is buried with full honors and eventually revered as a saint. He is succeeded by his son John IV Laskaris, who is thirty three years old.

1283-1285: Europe is fully embroiled in the War of the Sicilian Vespers. John spends the first two years of his reign putting down a revolt in Epirus, then invading Serbia after it attempts to support the rebels. After the sacking of some border fortresses, peace is restored on a return to the status quo. Venice breaks with Charles of Anjou, requesting peace with Byzantium. John is in no mood to be generous. Venice must accept all its territorial losses, including its old quarter. They are given a new quarter, half the size of the new Genoese one. Venetian merchants must also pay a six percent import/export duty, triple of what the Genoese must pay. The only thing Venice gains is permission to trade in the Black Sea. John feels that the commercial competition between the two cities will help keep them honest.

1286-1290: The War of the Sicilian Vespers continues, although Charles of Anjou dies in 1286. Despite being faced by France, the Papacy, and Naples, Aragon-Sicily is winning, mainly through its extremely formidable navy. Also Aragon-Sicily receives a small subsidy from Byzantium, although talks of a marriage alliance between Constantinople and Barcelona eventually fall through.

Instead John has his eldest son Manuel marry a Georgian princess. With the Latins busy killing each other, he desires to finish the great task left uncompleted by his father, the retaking of Anatolia. However for now he continues the hellenization of Anatolia, as well as improving the empire’s economics. In 1287 he begins minting a new hyperpyron with 20.5 karats of gold, more than it had held for over a century. This does annoy Genoa as it now has to pay its rent for Coron-Modon in the more expensive coins, although the Genoese are somewhat mollified when the Byzantines convince the Tartars to allow the Genoese to open a second colony at Tana in the Sea of Azov.

John also works to reduce corruption and improve the efficiency of the imperial estates. In a gesture mirroring that of his grandfather, his wedding gift to his Georgian daughter-in-law is a coronet purchased with the profits from his poultry farms. Economic recovery is aided by the fact that Trebizond is becoming a major terminus for the central Asian trade routes as the Mamelukes tighten the noose on Acre.

However his good mood at his successes is diluted as Turkish tribesmen, increasingly less controlled by the Seljuk sultan, continually raid the frontier. Honors are evenly matched although in 1289 a small force raids the suburbs of Chonae.

1291-1295: In 1291, the city of Acre falls to the Mamelukes. All that remains of the once mighty Crusader States are the Kingdom of Cyprus and the Principality of Antioch; the latter is essentially a city-state. They survive mainly because the Mamelukes fear any attack on those states will draw in the Roman Empire and/or the Il-Khanate.

In 1292, Oljeitu, Khan of the Il-Khanate, is assassinated. The Mongol state soon begins to break up under a series of weak and short lived khans as local rulers attempt to assert their independence. The same year Teutonic Knights raiding Lithuania massacre four thousand Russian orthodox subjects of Lithuania.

Two years later delegates from Cilicia arrive in Constantinople. Afraid that the Mamelukes might march north as the Il-Khanate increasingly becomes less of a threat, the Armenians are desperate for a protector. Originally they looked to the Papacy and Catholic Europe, but the Massacre of the Faithful (what the 1292 Lithuanian slaughter is termed) changed their minds. As a result, their only other option is Byzantium. They offer to submit to Roman authority, in exchange for Constantinople acknowledging all their local rights and protecting them against the Mamelukes. John accepts.

A Turkish raiding party in 1295 is joined by Christian Turks who defect to join their ethnic brethren. Together they raid the Meander river valley but are eventually annihilated near Ephesus. There are a handful of other Turkish raids that year as well, but none penetrate very far as Roman army units flood the frontier.

1296-1300: Since the Armenian delegation arrived, there was a massive buildup along the Anatolian frontier. In 1296 the attack commences led by John himself, imitating his father. The Seljuk sultanate has been imitating the Il-Khanate, local emirs asserting their independence of Konya. As a result Roman forces face no united Turkish resistance but a multitude of minor Turkish statelets, most of which are more concerned with fighting each other than combating the Romans. Iconium (Konya) falls late in 1296.

Slowly but steadily the Romans advance across Anatolia, facing constant but poorly organized Turkish resistance. In 1298 Roman forces begin facing more serious opposition as several of the displaced Turkish tribes begin answering to a new leader named Osman. The campaign turns into a bloody stalemate, both sides suffering heavy casualties. After a year and a half, Osman decides that prospects in the collapsing Il-Khanate are better. Many medieval historians often wonder what would’ve happened if he had decided to remain in Anatolia instead.

Without Osman’s support, the remaining Turks are gradually pushed back, many of them choosing to join Osman in Mesopotamia. In April 1300 Theodosiopolis falls; two months later a Turkish force is practically annihilated at Manzikert. John stages a massive triumph in Constantinople, giving pride of place to the Georgian soldiers loaned to him by his son’s father-in-law. Historians explain the Laskarid success as compared to the Komnenid failure to retake Anatolia with three reasons, the lack of a western menace (the War of the Sicilian Vespers is still ongoing), the significant decrease in Seljuk capabilities after the Mongol invasion, and the conditions in the Il-Khanate which convince Osman to abandon Anatolia in favor of Mesopotamia.

The image is somewhat spoiled by the fact that a month later, Turkish rebellions break out in Cappadocia and Coloneia. Also several of the European border districts had been ravaged by the Serbians and Bulgarians while most of the army was in Anatolia. Since he had already begun dipping into his personal fortune to help pay the troops, John is forced to be content with a show of force along the European border without actually punishing either of the Slavic states.

1301-1305: The War of the Sicilian Vespers comes to an end in 1302. The Angevins retain control of southern Italy but Aragon and Sicily are united under Frederick II, third son of Peter I.

In Mesopotamia, the current Khan of the Il-Khanate attempts to use Osman and his army of refugee Turks to put down a major rebellion centered in southern Mesopotamia. However Osman kills the rebel leader at a parley in 1303, co-opts the rebellion and proclaims the birth of a Turkish sultanate to replace the one lost in Anatolia. In 1305 he takes Baghdad and establishes it as his capital; this is considered by most historians to be the official birth of the Ottoman Empire.

Also in 1305 a Roman army debouches from the Cilician Gates and marches into Syria. In the previous year it had broken the two Turkish rebellions of 1300. Greek settlers are brought in, attracted by tax exemptions, as well as a sizeable number of Vlachs. While this does settle Anatolia down some, the treasury suffers.

Mameluke detachments shadow the force but do not engage as it quickly becomes clear its target is Antioch. Manuel II Laskaris is in command. Antioch refuses to surrender and is besieged. After twelve days the gates are opened by local Orthodox citizens, causing the city to fall. There is some looting before Manuel can restrain his troops, but overall little damage is done to Antioch or its inhabitants. Religious toleration is promised to all Antiochenes, although an Orthodox patriarch is installed.

The pope is outraged and has the clergy proclaim a Crusade against Constantinople. The response is apathetic; all the major states of Europe have other concerns and without their support, it is obvious any crusade would fail miserably. All this episode does is confirm the Romans in their hatred of Catholicism and that the Fourth Crusade was not a fluke.

However in order to help forestall any threat, Manuel makes a special arrangement with Philip, King of Naples. Bari is becoming a major port where eastern goods enter Italy. In order to prevent the Angevins from attacking it, Manuel passes laws whereby Neapolitan citizens have to pay only a three percent value tax on luxury goods purchased in Bari. This ensures that Neapolitan merchants and nobles won’t support an attack on Bari, since direct Angevin control would likely raise the price. Also a Neapolitan tax collector is installed in Bari, to make it easier for Philip to levy duties on any goods passing from Naples to Bari and vice versa. The arrangement secures Philip much income, with little of the expense of defending or maintaining Bari.

During this period (and later) John faces a number of noble uprisings. He has inherited his father’s distaste of the aristocracy and usually appoints commoners to administrative and military commands. Also the conquered lands of Anatolia are divvied out to small landowners in an effort to revitalize the class. While the central Anatolian plateau is more favorable to pastoralism, he imposes limits on the amount of property any one individual or family can hold in a single theme. Obviously all this annoys the aristocracy but also hampers their ability to strike back. The fact that the Nobles’ Rebellion of 1261 resulted in the crippling or destruction of several of the major noble families only make things more difficult for the aristocracy.

1306-1310: The Il-Khanate is shattered. The main victors are the Ottomans, which rule a state stretching from Lake Van to Basra, and the Jalayirids, who rule most of the Iranian plateau with their capital at Fars.

Increasing trade rivalries in the Black Sea market cause war to break out between Venice and Genoa. John decides to remain neutral, but he has to use the Imperial fleet several times to enforce peace in Imperial waters. Fifteen ships are sunk in a squall after one such demonstration. However he does tell the Venetians that if they take Coron or Modon, he expects to start receiving rent payments.

With the Imperial fleet active, John decides to use it and seizes Cyprus in 1309. The papacy is distracted by the Templar trial and does not respond.

1311-1313: Tensions increase between Byzantium and Genoa when a Genoese squadron attacks several Venetian vessels in the harbor at Smyrna. The fighting gets out of hand and several dozen Greeks are killed and four Roman vessels burned. John demands reparations to be paid to both the Venetians and Greeks who suffered in the attack, but Genoa refuses. Three days before the Imperial demand reaches Genoa, the commune received news of a great victory at Ragusa; fifty one Venetian ships sunk or captured. With Venice itself under blockade, Genoa is in no mood to listen to Roman demands.

John’s response is fairly mild. He triples the Genoese duties to match the fees the Venetians pay, but only arrests those Genoese merchants who refuse to pay. Neither Modon or Coron is attacked, although he does send a messenger to Sarai to encourage the Khan of the Blue Horde to attack Kaffa or Tana.

At the same time, the Barbary Corsairs as they are now called, make their appearance. In 1312 a general truce is signed at Oran, bringing an end to the first stage of the Marinid attempt to control North Africa. Numerous soldiers and sailors, now without wars to fight, take to the sea and begin raiding Christian ships and shores. This mostly impinges on Aragonese and Genoese shipping.

1314-1315: Genoese resistance is crippled by a double blow in May 1314. First, the blockade of Venice is shattered at the Battle of Chioggia, the tide having turned in the Venetian favor by the arrival of a Venetian fleet from the east. Second, the Blue Horde launches attacks on both Kaffa and Tana. Both Venetian and Genoese merchants are expelled and John uses this to bar the Italians from the Black Sea. Crippled Genoa and exhausted Venice are in no position to argue, but relations distinctively cool.

1316: John IV Laskaris dies and is succeeded by Manuel II Laskaris, who is thirty two. Almost immediately afterward a revolt breaks out in Anatolia amongst the Turkish population still settled there. An Ottoman army invades Cilicia in support, bypassing well defended Antioch. At Tarsus, Manuel II Laskaris fights an inconclusive battle, but it stops the Ottoman advance and encourages the Mamelukes and Jalayirids to both invade the Ottoman Empire.

Manuel II, who has spent much time amongst the Turks of central and eastern Anatolia and fought beside many of them, is much more liked by the Turks than John IV. While during the 1296-1300 campaign several of the minor emirs joined with the Romans since then relations had soured because of attempts to convert them and relocate them to Thrace and Macedonia.

Manuel promises to stop any relocation attempts, provided that the Turks serve the Empire faithfully. He also promises religious toleration to those who still follow Islam (the data is vague but historians estimate at least two thirds are still Muslim, although the upper leadership is more likely evenly split), with the stipulations of no proselytizing and that mosques cannot be taller than the tallest church in any town.

Instead Manuel makes sure that the Turks are surrounded by other Christian settlers (Central and eastern Anatolia is a cultural smorgasbord, with Greeks, Armenians, Turks, the occasional Bulgarian, and Vlachs fleeing from Hungarian incursions) and serve alongside Christian troops. He hopes that this soft-sell approach will work, and it does, although it takes at least two generations.

He is criticized by the patriarch for this long-term approach; according to two separate accounts, Manuel called the patriarch a ‘Latin cleric’. The continued papal refusal to acknowledge Roman claims on Cyprus or Antioch is extremely grating to Manuel who harbors a special hatred for Urban V, who personally called him a ‘servant of Satan’ for his role in the fall of Antioch.

1317-1319: The rebels are quickly cowed without the promised Ottoman support and by Manuel’s concessions, but both Bulgaria and Serbia both take the opportunity to raid across the European borders. Manuel ignores the weaker Serbia and marches on Trnovo, flattening a much smaller Bulgarian army that attempts to stop him. The main Bulgarian army attempts to divert him by attacking Adrianople but Manuel ignores the threat, investing Trnovo. Another Bulgarian siege at Mesembria also fails to divert him.

Adrianople falls after a siege of only eleven days through treachery. When Trnovo falls three weeks later Manuel’s revenge is terrible. The city is razed to the ground with many of its citizens slaughtered. The remainder are transplanted to Anatolia. The outnumbered Bulgarian army is unable to intervene in pitched battle but does skirmish, freeing some 1,000 captives in one raid. Mesembria manages to avoid capture, but George Sphrantzes wrote “at most three cats were left alive in the city.”

Peace is made on fairly generous terms. Bulgaria does not have to pay any tribute and is allowed to keep all the spoils from Adrianople. All Roman prisoners and non-Trnovo Bulgarians are returned to their respective countries. Serbia makes peace shortly afterward, paying a small annual tribute of 2,500 hyperpyra.

All of Christendom is scandalized on May 19, 1319, when a Barbary squadron skirts Rome itself. A few dozen Moorish soldiers land and raid the countryside for a few hours, acquiring little of value before being forced to withdraw. However the psychological blow is immense.

Six months later the Ottomans defeat the combined Mameluke-Jalayirid army at the gates of Baghdad itself. The Battle of the Gates ensures that the Ottoman Empire will survive, despite being surrounded by three states all larger than it.

1320-1323: Delegates from both Genoa and Barcelona approach the pope in early 1320. Shaken by the raid on Rome, he agrees to their request. A general crusade is declared against the Barbary Pirates. Portugal, Aragon, Pisa and Genoa all participate; they had suffered the most from the pirates. However the commercial rivalries between the participants hamper cooperation. The crusade resembles four state-sponsored expeditions rather than any international effort. The only reason historians even list this as a crusade is the use of church money in the provisioning of the Christian fleets.

Tunis falls to a Genoese flotilla in 1321 while a Portuguese fleet takes Ceuta, although it is expelled the next year. Oran falls to an Aragonese armada, but that is the last success of the crusade. The crusade also has the effect of pushing the various Muslim emirs to favor the Marinids as a protector against Christendom.

1324-1330: In 1324, Manuel dies at only forty and is succeeded by his only living heir, his twenty year old daughter Anna. Anna I Laskaris, Empress of Rhomanion, is not taken seriously by the Bulgarians. When they raid across the border, a Byzantine army sacks Trnovo again, destroying what repair work had been done, and deports the inhabitants.

Mameluke forces also begin raiding Roman Syria (Antioch and a very small strip of coast to the south). Anna’s initial response is to marry Andronikos Komnenos, son of the duke of Trebizond. He gains great prestige and is crowned emperor, but due to his lack of Laskarid blood, only Anna gets to wear the purple slippers.

When the Roman army marches in 1325, public opinion is shocked by Anna’s decision to accompany the army while her husband remains in Constantinople. While she is fairly unpopular amongst the army officers, since as a woman she cannot lead an army (the army is commanded by Manuel Kantakuzenos, a major landowner in Cappadocia), she uses this opportunity to circulate amongst the common soldiers, who quickly grow to love her.

According to a letter written by the bishop of Chonae, her presence reminded the soldiers that Nike, victory, was a goddess. The increase in classical Greek references in Byzantine literature of the time corresponds with a form of proto-nationalism centered around Orthodoxy and Greek culture, although it is often more anti-Latin in nature amongst the less educated populace. The term Hellenes loses its derogatory term at some point, usually identified as Anna’s reign. Also the epic of Digenes Akritas is altered at this time to make the hero half Greek and half Turk, as opposed to half Greek and half Arab.

Roman morale is extremely high when the army debouches from the Cilician Gates, smashing aside the Mameluke raiding parties in Cilicia and breaking up a siege of Antioch. Two weeks later it invests Aleppo. Two weeks after that, a Mameluke army arrives to break the siege. Despite being slightly outnumbered (44,000 vs. 38,000) the Mameluke commander decides to attack, calling the Roman soldiers “a bunch of mewling kittens, content to be commanded by a woman. Even with 200,000 kittens, I will not be bested by any woman.”

He is. Because of his disdain for his opponent, he launches an unsubtle frontal attack on the Roman lines. The battle in the center is intense as the crack Roman troops, locally outnumbered, fight desperately to stem the ferocious Mameluke onslaught. The battle lines sway back and forth as sheets of arrows snarl out from the Roman archers in the rear. Anna herself is directly behind the engagement, her pavilion clear for both sides to see, although she does stay out of arrow range. The Roman numerical advantage is decisive. Four thousand Cumans and Turks lash volley after volley into the Mameluke flanks as Manuel throws the reserves behind the reinforced wings, ordering them to swing inward. Barely five thousand Mamelukes escape. Some historians refer to it as a “second Cannae”. The Mameluke commander is captured and “made into a woman” (castrated).

The next month see two more Roman victories over Mameluke armies. The first, over a force of 12,000, takes place just five days after the Battle of Aleppo. The second, three weeks later, is over a contingent 11,000 strong. With their armies in the north effectively destroyed, the Mamelukes are unable to prevent Aleppo, Edessa, and all of the Syrian coast as far south as Laodicea from falling. By September 1327 the Roman army is besieging Tripoli and Homs. Peace is eventually made with the Mamelukes ceding everything north of the Laodicea-Aleppo-Edessa line.

Anna returns to Constantinople; nine months later she has a son named Nikephoros. With the Mamelukes and Bulgarians cowed, she prefers to spend her time creating orphanages, hospitals, and schools. In 1330, she massively expands the University of Constantinople, which had not yet recovered from the Latin conquest. She portrays it as a second founding.

For the rest of her reign, she avoids warfare to the best of her ability. While she recognizes the need to have the army’s support, she doubts that further conquests would be ultimately beneficial. When Bulgarian raiders cross the border in 1330, she limits reprisals to a show of force along the frontier and then gives the Bulgarian king two court titles which together earn him an annual stipend of 3,500 hyperpyra. The raids stop.

The Ottomans do not invade the Mamelukes during the Roman war, mainly because their energies are diverted by an attempt to break into the Iranian Plateau. For four years (1326-1330) the Ottomans and Jalayirids spill much blood but the border remains unchanged.

1331-1335: Teutonic raids into Lithuania continue regularly, with mixed success. However one expedition in 1333 is ambushed by a Novgorodian army on the Lithuanian border (Its previous mission had been to enforce Pskov’s obedience to Novgorod). The Novgorodians win a crushing victory and return the Lithuanian captives to their homes. While the Teutonic Knights gain a steady stream of crusaders to bolster their ranks, Lithuania gains some support from Russians (mainly from Novgorod) who, since the Massacre of the Faithful, offer their support to the Lithuanians against the Knights. As the Lithuanian people decide whether or not to convert to Christianity, it is not surprising that nearly all of them favor Orthodoxy.

Western Europe is quiet until 1335, when the Ninety Years War begins between England and France. The French fleet sacks the Isle of Wight, but is caught in a storm and severely damaged. The next day the English fleet wipes it out.

1336-1340: In 1339 England wins a crushing victory over the French army at Calais, her longbowmen scything down waves of French chivalry. Calais capitulates two days later. The English army also conducts a series of ruthless chevauchees across northern France, although the primary theater shifts to Aquitaine after the Battle of Calais.

By 1338, the Marinids ruling from the city of Marrakesh have gained control of all of North Africa from Tripoli to the Atlantic with the exception of Oran and Tunis. When Castilian cavalry raid the borders of the Emirate of Granada in June 1339, the Marinids use this as an excuse to invade Iberia. Granada is quickly cowed into submission as Marinid troops land and march north. The next year the main Marinid army shatters a Castilian-Portuguese force at the Battle of Rio Salado.

After a series of Serbian raids and a Roman show of force in 1338, the Serbian king is also given court titles which earn him an annual stipend of 3,000 hyperpyra. Anna ignores the protests of the European army commanders, leaving to review troops stationed in eastern Anatolia.

1341-1346: England and France continue skirmishing but their struggles are drowned out as disaster after disaster comes from Iberia. Cordoba and Murcia fall in 1342 and a year later another Castilian army is wiped out attempting to retake Cordoba. Encouraged by their successes, the Marinids invade Aragon, seizing Valencia in 1345. The only Christian victories are in early 1346, when a Marinid fleet is destroyed by the Aragonese off Mallorca and a small Marinid army repulsed from Oran.

At the same time the Ottomans invade the Jalayirids again. This time the war goes much better for them. Gilan and Hormuz are both captured and are ceded in the peace treaty of 1346. Georgia seizes the opportunity to raid Azerbaijan, sacking Tabriz in 1345, but makes no attempt to hold any territories due to fierce opposition from the Qara Koyunlu.

1347-1352: The Black Death strikes Europe, killing over thirty million people. Historians believe it originated in the Far East and spread to Europe via trading ships operating out of Trebizond. The Roman Empire is the earliest struck in Christendom, but none of the surrounding states are able to take advantage before they are afflicted as well. The Black Death does slow the fighting in Iberia and France but does not stop it.

The Empire suffers especially due to its more urbanized nature. Constantinople loses at least forty five percent of its population, Thessalonica and Nicaea at least thirty five percent, and Antioch at least thirty percent. Perversely, Trebizond is the least heavily hit of all the major Roman cities. Of Byzantium’s neighbors, the Serbs and Bulgarians suffer the least, although even they are not immune.

1353-1361: At the Battle of Toulouse in 1358 English forces succeed in capturing the French King. The next year France signs the humiliating treaty of Toulouse, whereby England is confirmed in possession of Aquitaine as it belonged to Eleanor of Aquitaine although the issue of the King of England being a vassal of the King of France in his Gascon possessions is not resolved, the main reason the peace does not last. France also loses Calais, some of Normandy, and a small portion of Maine.

The Marinid army is finally defeated when it is repulsed from Toledo in 1357. Still the situation is desperate and the pope needs little convincing to declare a crusade. The Black Prince marches south in 1360. Basing out of Toledo, he inflicts serious damage on Marinid detachments scattered across the countryside, but he is heavily outnumbered.

When some French and German crusaders join him in 1361, he decides to march south. At Segovia on April 2 he meets the main Marinid force and defeats it. While the news is celebrated as far away as Copenhagen, the victory ultimately has little effect; the Marinids have become too well entrenched.

In 1358, Theodoros II Laskaris is officially canonized as a saint of the Orthodox church, almost immediately becoming the patron saint of Roman soldiers. Also at this time he is officially commemorated as Theodoros the Great.

1362-1366: Peace is finally made in Iberia as neither the Marinids nor the Black Prince can break the post-Segovia stalemate. The river Tagus becomes the dividing line between Islam and Christendom. Toledo, captured from the Muslims in 1085, is once again on the front lines.

In reprisal for Russian men serving with the Lithuanian armies, the Teutonic Knights pillage several villages under the protection of Novgorod.

In 1366 Andronikos Laskaris is crowned as a co-emperor. His fellow rulers are his father Nikephoros Laskaris and his grandmother Anna Laskaris, his grandfather Andronikos Komnenos having died two years earlier. He is eighteen years old.

1367-1370: In 1368 Andronikos Laskaris is engaged in his usual antics, sleeping with a disreputable woman known for her many lovers. One day when he is visiting, his guards kill a man they mistook as a rival lover. It was Alexios, Andronikos’ younger brother, who was seventeen. His father Nikephoros, whose health had been poor, is grief-stricken and dies a month later. Enraged, Anna strips Andronikos of his titles and removes him from the succession. She proclaims Konstantinos Laskaris, her grandson from her second child John (He died of the plague in 1360), as her heir. He is twelve.

In 1369, there is a large revolt of Christians in Marinid Spain. The Christian Iberian states all invade the Marinid territories, but due to the lack of cooperation between them the Marinids are able to defeat them in detail, which causes the revolt to collapse. To avoid any repeat, the Marinids promise religious toleration to Catholics in their European provinces, a privilege that is contingent on their good behavior.

1371-1372: Andronikos is outraged over the loss of his rights because of an unfortunate accident. Starting sometime in 1371 he gradually makes contact with discontented elements of the army and bureaucracy. Those elements have their power bases in Europe and are supported by the aristocracy, who also are based mainly in Europe. Anna Laskaris has always shown much more favor to Anatolia and that is where her support lies. Her preferential treatment of Anatolians in her hiring practices, many of which are often transplanted Vlachs, Armenians, and Christian Turks, over Europeans, who are usually full-blood Greeks, has led to increasing anger, which Andronikos works to exploit.

1373-1375: In March 1373 Andronikos launches his coup. Anna is unable to stop him but gains enough advance warning to flee to Nicaea along with Konstantinos. In Anatolia she is welcomed and fully supported while Europe backs Andronikos II Laskaris as he is crowned. While Anna does have a much larger army and treasury, Andronikos has Constantinople and the backing of the Imperial fleet. That backing allows him to seize Rhodes and Cyprus by the end of the year.

The next year is a stalemate as neither side can hurt each other. Andronikos II does not have enough troops to invade Anatolia and defend the northern borders (he cut the subsidies to the Slavs, which was one of the main grievances of the European army commanders) while Anna I has enough troops but not enough ships to invade Europe. The only event of consequence is the fall of Lesbos to Andronikos II in September, securing his control of the Aegean.

In a rare joint venture, Genoese and Venetian diplomats reach Nicaea in early 1375 and offer a deal. In exchange for their naval support in the civil war, Anna must reduce their duties to a mere two percent, allow both parties access to the Black Sea, and Venice must receive Crete, although she will pay an annual rent of 16,000 hyperpyra, equal to that paid by Genoa for Coron-Modon. Genoa backs Venice’s bid for Crete in exchange for Venice agreeing to bar its merchants from the Sea of Azov as long as Crete is in Venetian hands, and also baring its merchants from entering Kaffa for three years after the end of the civil war.

Anna’s advisors urge her to reject the Italian offer and make peace with Andronikos by disowning Konstantinos and reinstating Andronikos into the succession. However her hatred of her grandson, who she blames for killing her firstborn and favorite son, convinces her to accept the Italian offer.

1376: A great Italian armada, a hundred and sixty ships, enters the Aegean basin in late April. On May 1, it is challenged by the Imperial fleet, one hundred and twelve vessels strong, off of Melos. Despite the usual Genoese-Venetian bickering, the eight hour long battle ends in a crushing Italian victory. In exchange for the loss of fifteen ships and 3,100 men (9 Genoese ships, 1,900 men, 6 Venetian ships, 1,200 men) fifty nine Roman vessels are sunk or captured and 14,000 men captured or killed.

The two city-states are able to field such a large fleet despite their losses in the Aegean and Black Seas because of their substantial commercial networks. Venice dominates trade in the Adriatic and the two cities make up nearly all the trade with the Mamelukes and Antioch (Venice’s share is the largest). Genoa also controls Corsica and Tunis, making it a major trader in the western Mediterranean although this is fiercely contested by Catalan merchants from Barcelona and Sicilian merchants from Palermo.

The victorious fleet docks at Smyrna where Anna’s troops are loaded. They are disembarked in Gallipoli, seized as a staging area against Constantinople, which is invested on July 1 by the Anatolian army while the Italians blockade the port. Two attempts by Andronikos II’s forces to break the siege fail. Finally on November 29, Andronikos is deposed in a coup engineered by several of his courtiers and Constantinople is surrendered to Anna.

Konstantinos himself is the one to behead Andronikos. According to legend, Konstantinos said “So this is how you have ruled the Empire, cousin, by bringing to it nothing but civil war and ruin.” Andronikos replied, “Will you, cousin, rule it any better?” Historians are skeptical of this event, given the obvious parallels to the accession of Heraclius.

1377-1380: Venice takes possession of Crete, much to the outrage of the local inhabitants. Much to Anna’s embarrassment, she has to provide troops to the Venetians (part of the treaty obligations) to help put down the almost instantaneous Greek revolt. Both Genoa and Venice begin entering the Black Sea in force, crowding out local Greek merchants that had cornered the market since the Italian expulsion.

Anna also reinstates the subsidies to Serbia and Bulgaria, increasing them by 1,000 hyperpyra each. This is done so that the Slavic states won’t invade the Empire while she conducts a thorough purge of the European officer corps. To enhance her battered prestige, she purchases the Crown of Thrones from France (it had been transferred to Venice as collateral for loans by the Latin Empire, where it had been sold to France), paying 150,000 hyperpyra for it. It returns to Constantinople in a lavish celebration in 1378.

The Ninety Years’ War resumes in France, with French forces avoiding major pitched battles and concentrating on seizing English strongholds. The strategy proves very successful. By 1380, a third of English Aquitaine is in French hands. The resumption of the war and the subsequent need for funds is the reason the French are willing to sell the Crown of Thorns.

Tensions in the eastern Baltic increase daily as an undeclared war is in effect between the Teutonic Knights and Novgorod, along with the usual Lithuanian operations. The battles are mostly minor skirmishes with a few dozen combatants at most, but one Novgorodian commander, Mikhail Shuisky, gains a fearsome reputation as he wins one skirmish after another. Much farther east, another war leader gains renown, as the Jalayirids begin to suffer numerous raids by a warlord based in Samarkand. His name is Timur.

1381-1385: On January 11, 1381, Anna I dies just three weeks shy of her seventy-seventh birthday. She had ruled for nearly fifty seven years and was predeceased by all of her children (besides her two sons she had a daughter named Zoe who died of the plague in 1347). She is succeeded by Konstantinos XI Laskaris. However the real power is his cousin George Komnenos (he is the grandson of Thomas Komnenos, younger brother of Andronikos Komnenos, husband of Anna I).

The Bulgarians and Serbs chose to invade the Empire when George convinces Konstantinos to revoke Anna’s reinstated subsidies. The battered European armies, still not recovered from the civil war, are unable to put up serious opposition. Ochrid falls to the Serbs in July and Mesembria to the Bulgarians in September. George Komnenos, in command of the European armies, focuses more on pillaging than fighting. He acquires a great many spoils, but loses most of it as well as a decent percentage of his army at the Battle of Trajan’s Gate. Still Konstantinos refuses to remove him but pulls troops from Anatolia to bolster his European armies.

The Ottomans seize the opportunity and pounce in 1382. A Roman army outnumbered two to one is shattered at Manzikert and the Roman frontier rolled all the back to Theodosiopolis which is placed under siege. Ottoman troops raid as far west as Sebastea.

In 1383 George returns to the fight and chastened by Trajan’s Gate, has learned a valuable lesson; it is easier to rob corpses. He first feints toward Ochrid, which leads the Serbs to cancel a planned attack on Dyrrachium. The Bulgarians, spotting an opportunity, march south, sacking Philliopolis, Serres, and Christopolis in quick succession, then swinging east to ravage the suburbs of Adrianople. The repeated Bulgarian successes at taking the cities of Thrace is due to the fact that George had removed the bulk of their garrisons to supplement his army, which he proceeded to then lose at Trajan’s Gate. Also the Anatolian reinforcements do not go to replace the garrisons, but to supplement George’s field army.

The Bulgarians are in high spirits but complacent and heavily laden with spoils and captives when they return to Trajan’s Gate. George had spent the campaigning season behind the Bulgarians, sacking Sofia and ravaging the countryside. As soon as word reached him that the Bulgarians were marching north, he raced back to Trajan’s Gate. This time it is the Bulgarians who are ambushed. They suffer heavy casualties and lose all of their spoils and captives. Peace is made shortly afterwards, Mesembria being ceded back to the Empire in exchange for 85,000 hyperpyra and all Bulgarian prisoners. Serbia makes peace after Ochrid is retaken, restoring the status quo.

In Asia, the Ottoman invasion ends in 1384 without ever taking Theodosiopolis. News that Timur’s attacks are becoming increasingly common prompt the Turks to attack the occupied Jalayirids. Still the Roman frontier remains where it had been at the peak of the Ottoman advance; virtually all of Armenia is lost.

1386-1390: War continues in France, mostly in favor of the French. However the Duchy of Burgundy is beginning to show dangerous signs of independence.
George Komnenos has become very fond of war; the Bulgarian war allowed him to amass a large fortune. In order to make more money, he decides that he needs another war. In 1386 he convinces Konstantinos to revoke the Neapolitan privileges in Bari and the next year a Roman army lands in Apulia, commanded by George. His army is supported by a battery of six bombards, the first known use of Roman gunpowder.

The battle in southern Italy goes back and forth. The use of cannons allows George to seize Taranto but the advance stalls by the end of 1387. The Roman fleet has also not fully recovered from the civil war. While the Roman fleet is able to keep the Albania-Apulia supply lines open, that is all it can do. Neapolitan squadrons raid the Morea and southern Epirus. By 1388 they expand their operations eastward (raiding the Aegean involved the risk of provoking the Genoese and/or the Venetians. The latter actually favor the Neapolitan cause but are unwilling to break with the Empire, since that would leave the field entirely in the hands of Genoa.) Attaleia and Cyprus are ravaged in 1389, although an attack on Antioch is beaten off. The coast of southern Anatolia soon becomes the preferred target for Neapolitan squadrons.

In 1387, the Order of the Hospitallers is granted the isle of Malta by the king of Aragon-Sicily in exchange for the token tribute of two hunting falcons every year, an action taken in order to improve his relations with the Pope. In the late 1300s crusading fervor undergoes a revival, with the theme of ‘Christendom besieged’ becoming common in sermons throughout Europe. After the successes of the early 1200s, Catholicism has been steadily losing ground in the eastern and western ends of the Mediterranean.

In order to combat this trend, Pope Clement V decides to revitalize the Knights Hospitallers as a fighting force. Since the destruction of the Templar Order in 1310, the Hospitallers have focused on maintaining and expanding their hospital complex on the outskirts of Rome. A French noble contemptuously called them “better nurses than fighters” to which the Grandmaster replied that “the first duty of our Order is to our lords the sick.”

Also the Order is undergoing a series of accusations by nobles jealous of its wealth, claiming that its medical successes are due to following heathen Muslim and heretical Greek practices. They are even accused of dissecting fresh corpses to learn how the human body works, although modern historians can find no evidence of this. The Knights’ medical success is much more likely caused by their emphasis on exercise, lots of fresh air and sunshine, the separation of patients into different wards based on their ailments so that a man with a broken leg doesn’t catch the plague, and the use of silver plates and bowls as opposed to bacteria infested wood ones.

However Clement V wants fighters, not nurses, and convinces Jaime IV to transfer Malta to the Knights. While the Knights still maintain their hospital, it is downsized with many of the personnel being transferred to Malta. With loans from bankers in Florence and Siena, as well as church donations and an international recruitment drive undertaken by the clergy, the Hospitallers are able to field fifteen galleys by late 1390, which they begin using against Muslim shipping along the north African coast.

1391-1393: George finally gains a much needed victory at the Battle of Troia, although he suffers nearly 12,000 casualties (out of a force of 50,000). Determined to finally get some booty he marches on Salerno, investing the city. His cannons quickly smash three breaches in the walls, but before he can take the city orders arrive from Constantinople for him to desist. A general truce has started; Konstantinos is starting to show some independence.

In 1392 Naples cedes a ruined Apulia, the heel of Italy, to the Empire. It is a wreck, ravaged repeatedly by both Romans and Neapolitans. At least half of the population is either dead or emigrated. Taranto, a major port and the main prize of the war, has a population of less than a thousand. George is highly annoyed at the peace; it cost him the spoils of Salerno.

In May 1393, Pope Clement VI attempts to move the papacy to Avignon just two weeks after being proclaimed pope. However the Italian Cardinals object to this and as soon as Clement VI arrives in Avignon, the Italian Cardinals declare his election invalid and elect Martin V as rightful pope. France, the Iberian states, Norway, Denmark, and Hungary back Clement. The rest of Catholicism backs Martin.

The Teutonic stance on the Great Schism is unknown for a time as the Knights launch a massive invasion of Novgorod. Their siege of Pskov is fiercely contested as the citizens and a garrison outnumbered twenty to one fight heroically for their city and their God. Mikhail Shuisky gathers the Novgorodian army, skirmishing with Teutonic foragers as he does so. Seven thousand Lithuanian soldiers join them. According to the Chronicle of Mikhail Shuisky, the Lithuanian commander’s answer to the question “Why?” is “Why would we not fight for our brothers?”

On August 9, the Novgorod-Lithuanian army launches its attack on the Teutonic force. The battle rages for five hours; Mikhail is everywhere, pulling back hard pressed units, throwing in reserves at the crucial moment, rallying his men whenever they waver. After three hours the garrison and people of Pskov sally, slamming into the Teutonic rearguard. One contingent captures a battery of Teutonic catapults and turns them against their former masters. Finally at around 2:30 PM the Teutonic army breaks, fleeing desperately into the woods only to be cut down by Lithuanian cavalry.

Mikhail’s popularity skyrockets and he is hailed as Alexander Nevsky reborn. Using his newfound popularity he stages a military coup in November, being crowned King of Novgorod on November 15. His government, when fully formed, combines elements of the new monarchy and the old republican traditions of the city. While he is a king, his rule is not absolute.

1394-1397: George Komnenos returns to Constantinople and is promptly made civilian governor of Optimates (Bithynia), a wealthy, prosperous theme far away from any potential war zone, and is shunted off to Nicaea. Very little is known about his conduct as governor, but it is known that when his sister dies in 1394, he takes full responsibility for the upbringing of his fourteen year old nephew Demetrios Komnenos (his father had died in 1383, after which George helped his sister with a small stipend. Demetrios also takes the last name of his mother, as it is more prestigious than his father’s claim as a descendant of the Emir of Kayseri.) George makes sure he receives the finest military training possible.

In 1396 Hungary and the Empire sign the historic treaty of Dyrrachium, regarding respective spheres of influences in the Balkans. Bulgaria and Serbia are to be buffer states to preserve peace between the two powerhouses of the Balkans and neither is to annex any part of those two states without the other’s permission. The Empire also promises not to contest Hungarian attacks on Vlachia, provided that the Vlachs are allowed freedom of worship with their own churches and clergy, and are allowed to emigrate freely to the Empire if they wish to do so.

Also the Empire drops its own claims and recognizes Hungarian claims to Dalmatia from Istria to Cattaro (Venice controls the territory in question). In exchange it is written in the treaty that “If, by the grace of God, the most illustrious Emperor of the Romans should conquer the city of Venice, that city, along with all associated Italian territories west of Gorz, along with all Venetian possessions unbounded by the Adriatic Sea, will be considered the rightful property of the Roman Empire, and of the Roman Empire alone.

The Ottomans, in the course of their invasion of the Iranian Plateau, finally make contact with the mysterious warlord known as Timur. Born in 1338 in Samarkand as a member of the Suldus tribe, he spent most of his life establishing himself as leader of the Chagatai Khanate. Then in order to consolidate his rule and distract discontented elements, he embarked on a campaign of conquest.

After first humbling the rulers of Moghulistan, he crippled the Blue Horde by sacking its capital of Sarai in 1388, just as the star of Novgorod is beginning its ascent. He then turns his attention south, overwhelming the minor states of Persia that have managed thus far to avoid being annexed by the Jalayirids because of their preoccupation with the Ottomans. Once those were conquered he turned his attentions to the Jalayirids themselves.

In the summer of 1395, an Ottoman army is besieging Mazandaran when Timur’s main force arrives. He will not tolerate a rival in Persia and peremptorily demands that the Turks withdraw. When the Ottomans refuse, he annihilates their army and take Mazandaran. The next year he seizes Gilan and orders raids to commence on Ottoman possessions in Persia.

1398-1400: A crusade is launched against the Marinids, made possible by a truce in the Ninety Years War. Contingents from England, France, Germany, Italy, and even 300 men from Denmark join with the Castilian army at Toledo in 1398. Both Portugal and Aragon launch supporting offensives. The Crusade marches south, annihilating a couple of minor Marinid detachments and rejoices at the news of 4,000 Marinids killed in a failed attack on Aragonese Oran.

At Merida, the French knights in the crusading vanguard spot another small force of Marinids and immediately attack. They finish cutting the Muslims to pieces just in time to see the main Marinid army engulf them and wipe most of the French contingent out. The Marinids then attack the demoralized crusaders and score a crushing victory, moving on to besiege Toledo.

Marinid success however ends there. While the Portuguese offensive is rolled back to the Tagus, the Aragonese fleet, backed by Pisan and Papal galleys, succeeds in capturing Valencia in a surprise attack. And then there is Toledo. From its towers newly installed bombards roar down hellfire on the Marinid besiegers; wave after wave of Moorish soldiers hurl themselves futilely at the walls, clambering over the corpses of their fallen comrades. Roger de Flor, a participant and chronicler of the siege, optimistically called the Rock of Toledo “the graveyard of the Moorish people.”

Mining is of no use either. A vicious subterranean battle is fought between the Castilians and Marinids, in which the Castilians decidedly have the better of the exchange. On September 2, 1399, the Castilians detonate the first known gunpowder mine in history, wiping out five Marinid trebuchets and three hundred men. Two weeks later the siege is lifted.

In 1398 Timur takes Fars, the Jalayirid capital. Almost immediately he begins making preparations for the invasion of Mesopotamia. Cavalry raids are conducted almost daily while a Timurid army captures Hormuz. Sultan Mehmed I, called the Conqueror for his conquests in Armenia and eastern Arabia, conducts counter-raids but keeps his main force in Mesopotamia; he wishes to fight Timur on ground of his own choosing.

In 1399 Timur obliges him, invading Mesopotamia with over eighty thousand men. At Kirkuk Mehmed is defeated but retires in good order with minor casualties, although the city is lost. He gathers reinforcements, eventually commanding an army sixty five thousand strong; by that point Timur is almost at Baghdad.

In order to compensate for his numerical inferiority Mehmed decides to boost his men’s morale by fighting, as close as possible, on the same ground Bayezid I fought on during the Battle of the Gates. Thus Turkish morale is exceedingly high on November 3, when battle is joined.

It is not enough. The ferocious onslaught of the Timurid regiments break the Ottoman center as wave after wave of Mongol and Tartar horsemen hurl volleys into the Turkish flanks, overwhelming the flank guards by sheer weight of number. Mehmed throws in the reserves, halting the Timurid advance. Rallying his men with his presence, the Turks begin pushing the Timurids back, until a stray arrow knocks Mehmed from his horse. He is not dead, only unconscious, but the rumor of his death spreads wildly through the army. Panic begins to set in and Timur senses it, throwing in his own reserves. The Ottoman army shatters; Baghdad capitulates the next day.

Mehmed wakes up on November 5. Gathering together what he can of his army, he falls back to Basra. Timur, thinking he is no longer a threat, concentrates on capturing northern Mesopotamia; Mosul falls in February 1400. He wants the region secure as reports of Mameluke military buildups in northern Syria have him concerned.

When he is at Mosul, he is met by a delegation from Constantinople. After congratulating him on his victory over Mehmed, a treaty is made. Rhomanion will pay Timur 120,000 hyperpyra a year in exchange for not attacking the Empire. Konstantinos does this for two reasons. While George was stuck fighting in Italy, Konstantinos was freed of his influence. Since then he has made sure to remain so. Realizing that the two wars of his reign were ultimately counterproductive, he wants no more. Also he realizes that the money he gives to Timur will likely be spent on killing Mamelukes. However the view of many that Konstantinos is a weak old man is confirmed by these events.

After the treaty is signed, Timur moves with lightning speed into Mameluke Syria. He captures Homs in May, defeats a Mameluke army meant to relieve the city, and seizes Damascus in August. The main army then swings toward the coast, where most of the towns surrender immediately. Tyre foolishly tries to resist and is sacked in October.

On the other end of the Mediterranean, the Marinids fail to retake Valencia despite a four month siege due to their inability to implement an effective naval blockade. While the Marinid fleet is powerful enough to secure the Pillars and keep the Morocco-Granada line open, otherwise it is outmatched by Christian sea power.

1401-1402: The Timurid advance is temporarily halted by the defeat of a Timurid force not commanded by Timur at Nazareth. In response, Timur marches on Jerusalem, flattening a Mameluke force 30,000 strong at Arsuf. Terrified at the prospect of Timur gaining access to Egypt, the Mamelukes offer Timur a generous deal. In exchange for withdrawing from all his conquests south of Damascus, the Mamelukes will cede Damascus and territories north of it and pay him a lump sum equivalent to 2 million hyperpyra and an annual tribute thereafter of 240,000 hyperpyra. Such an offer places the Mamelukes in danger of bankruptcy but it buys them time. Considering that Timur turned sixty three a week after the treaty was signed, they might not have to pay tribute for long.

Timur welcomes the deal. Ottoman Armenia has been cut off from Mehmed in Basra since the fall of Mosul, and he wants to annex it before the Romans do. The rest of 1401 is spent doing so.

On August 9, 1401, Konstantinos XI Laskaris dies. George Komnenos returns to Constantinople after an absence of seven years for the funeral where he quickly earns the trust and respect of the new emperor, Theodoros III Laskaris, who is twenty three. In January 1402 twenty two year old Demetrios Komnenos, George’s nephew, is married to Theodoros’ eighteen year old sister Zoe.

Theodoros is one of those who thought his father was old and weak and is particularly disgusted by the treaty with Timur. George, who at age fifty eight still desires an opportunity for war and further riches, has to do very little to convince the emperor to repudiate the treaty.

Enraged, Timur immediately invades eastern Anatolia, seizing Theodosiopolis in September. Roman army units skirmish with his forces with Demetrios Komnenos participating in the fight. George and Theodoros’ strategy is to draw Timur into Anatolia, whittling his strength down with skirmishes and supply deprivation and then annihilate him somewhere in the Anatolian interior where he can’t possibly escape. In preparation for the campaign, George convinces Theodoros to appoint Demetrios strategos (general) of the Thracesian tagma, ten thousand strong.

1403: Timur’s army marches for the Halys river valley. In May he takes Sebastea after a twenty six day siege, slaughtering the inhabitants; he cannot afford to be slowed down by a large train of prisoners. Marching west, his foragers are repeatedly harassed by Roman cavalry, mostly Turkish and Cuman horse archers. Demetrios Komnenos is very successful at this, using his light cavalry to draw enemy squadrons into ambushes and then hammering them with his kataphraktoi.

Still Timur is merely slowed by this, but that is what Theodoros and George want as it gives them time to assemble the largest army Rhomanion has seen in four hundred years, if not more. East of Cappadocian Caesarea the forward scouts of both armies meet in early July. The Roman host numbers seventy two thousand strong, Timur’s eighty five thousand.
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Interim 1

The Roman Laskarid Army, c. 1400

The Laskarid army at the time of Timur’s invasion was one of the most formidable forces in the known world. In a hundred and fifty years it never lost a war and more than doubled the size of the empire, to a height unseen since the Macedonian dynasty. Most modern historians follow the lead of Roman historians in attributing the design solely to Theodoros the Great, with the following Laskarid rulers merely expanding the system. However recent scholarship is beginning to challenge this view.

The Laskarid army was an organic growth of the late Komnenid army with Mongol influences. The army ranks were often identical to older army titles, but the forces commanded rarely were equivalent.

The primary organizational unit was the tagma, a division of ten thousand soldiers commanded by a strategos. The Empire in 1400 had nine tagmata, two in Europe and seven in Asia. Every one of these tagma was divided in ten tourma, each one comprised of a thousand soldiers and commanded by a tourmarches. In each tagma the tourmai (plural of tourma) were numbered from one to ten, with the first tourmarches being the most senior and second in command of the tagmata after the strategos.

The Laskarid tagmata (plural of tagma) combined aspects of the old Roman tagmata and thematic armies. Like the thematic armies, Roman soldiers were given lands as payment, the grants varying in size according to the type of soldier. Since the Laskarids had access to large estates confiscated after the Nobles’ rebellion and lands conquered in Greece and Anatolia, having enough land grants was never an issue.

Soldiers were allowed to improve their estates but could not move up pay grades by doing so. If a heavy infantryman improved his estate so that it yielded the same income as a medium cavalryman’s estate, he would be allowed to keep the revenue but would not be promoted to a medium cavalryman with its higher salary.

Grants were hereditary, provided the soldier secured his tourmarches’ approval and the inheritor agreed to accept all the obligations of the estate. However estates could not be divided without the approval of the strategos of the tagma. This was rarely done as a typical soldier could not improve his estate to maintain two soldiers of his troop type. A heavy infantryman might be able to improve his estate to where it could equip two light infantrymen or archers, but due to the emphasis on combined arms tactics and maintaining the balance between troop types, which will be discussed below, this was usually unacceptable.

However soldiers paid solely in land had little incentive not to rebel against the central government. Thus the soldiers were also paid cash salaries as well, equal to the annual income of their estates. For instance, an infantryman assigned an estate that yielded an average annual income of 10 hyperpyra would receive a cash payment of 10 hyperpyra every year. Thus any soldier revolting against the central government would effectively cut their pay in half.

Actually any rebels would lose more than half their salary. Every two years soldiers received a bonus designed to pay for equipment, which had to be purchased at state warehouses. The bonus matched the cost of a full set of arms, armor, and field equipment required of the soldier, which varied according to his military function. However since conscientious care of equipment usually allowed it to last much longer than two years, this represented an actual bonus for soldiers. Troops were also allowed to upgrade their equipment beyond the standard required of their troop type, and those upgrades could be acquired outside the state warehouse system, although the warehouses also provided the more popular upgrades, such as lamellar armor for heavy infantry.

Troops on active duty also received a pay bonus equivalent to one quarter of their annual salary, calculated to the time on active duty. This was done to compensate the soldiers for revenues lost while not attending their lands, although most soldiers above the lowest pay grades had family members or hired workers to replace them in the fields.

Sometimes there were minor equipment variations between tagmata based on the wealth of their host themes. For example, heavy infantry of the Thracesian, Opsician, and Optimates tagma usually had maces or war hammers as secondary weapons and some lamellar armor, compared to the short swords and mail armor used by the heavy infantry stationed in poorer themes where land improvement was less of an option.

Soldiers received their annual pay and biannual equipment bonuses at the first of the two tagma reviews held each year, held at the capital of the theme. Failure to attend either review with any excuse other than physical inability resulted either in the loss of that year’s pay if it was the first review that was missed or the next year’s pay if it was the second. Soldiers had to attend the reviews with all of the required equipment at a certain level of quality; failure resulted in pay reductions. Also at the exercises at the beginning of the review, the soldiers had to already be at a certain level of proficiency or risk other pay deductions.

Soldiers also had to attend eight reviews and training sessions with their tourma during the year. Failure to attend was also punished by pay deductions, and the troops were also required to keep their equipment and training up to a certain standard at these events.

Anna I’s popularity with the common soldiery largely rested in her use of the tagma reviews. Every year she attended two, gradually rotating through each tagma. There she would watch the drills and competitions and the best performing soldiers of each troop type would be given cash rewards, personally handed to them by the empress herself or later by her son Nikephoros.

At this time it would be helpful for the reader to discuss the various troop types in the Laskarid army. The focus was on combined arms tactics between the various troop types; the main purpose of the reviews was to make sure that the various troop formations could work effectively together. The troop types shall be discussed in order of pay grade, from the lowest to the highest.

The lowest pay grade was that of the toxotai, the foot archer. Typically they were armored in leather or cloth and armed with a composite bow and small sword or ax. Approximately ten to fifteen percent of archers were equipped with crossbows and were overwhelmingly stationed in Europe. Both composite and crossbowmen were usually accompanied in battle by a pavise carrier to protect them while reloading who outside of battle doubled as the handlers of the baggage train. Toxotai were mainly used to defend ground and support heavy infantry advances.

Next were the akritoi, the light infantry. These were skirmishers and flank guards, used to screen the main body. Equipped with a clutch of four javelins and typically a sword and armored in leather, they were trained to skirmish with the foe and then close to melee in support of the heavy infantry if necessary. The akritoi in eastern Anatolia were largely Vlach immigrants, who favored a cleaver as their secondary weapon. Timurid scouts soon learned to fear them as a cleaver armed Vlach could hack the head off a destrier.

The heavy infantry, the skutatoi, were the backbone of the Roman army and the most numerous troop type. Armored in mail and in some cases lamellar, they were equipped with a long spear called a kontos or sometimes a polearm. Due to the large kite shaped shields they carried to protect against Ottoman and Mameluke horse archers, the long spathion of the Macedonian period was abandoned in favor of a new sword type, named the spatha after a sword type from the Justinian period, approximately halfway in size between a spathion and a gladius. Many wealthier skutatoi used maces or war hammers. The heavy infantry were used for many purposes, often to hold ground and provide a support base for cavalry attacks, although George Komnenos used them as an offensive force to great effect in his Bulgarian campaign.

The cheapest cavalry units in the Laskarid army were the light horse archers called Turkopouloi, who were, not surprisingly, almost entirely Turks. Used as scouts and screeners, together with the akritoi they made sure that enemy forces had a difficult time gaining accurate intelligence on Roman troop movements. Swirling around enemy ranks, they pelted the enemy with a continuous barrage of missiles. Often unarmored and armed with a composite bow, unlike the akritoi they were never used in melee unless the situation was desperate.

Next on the scale were the koursores, the medium cavalry. There were actually two types of this unit, light and heavy. Light koursores were armored in leather and the mount in cloth, and armed with a kontos and a sword along with a shield. The heavy version had mail armor for the rider and cloth for the horse, and was equipped with a kontos, a mace, a sword and a shield. The category was evenly split in strength between the two subcategories. The koursores were often used in complement with Turkopouloi who would whittle down the foe and break up his formations, allowing the koursores to charge and shatter the lines, riding them down in the ensuing melee.

Skythikoi were armored versions of the Turks, with both the horse and rider being clad in mail. Usually they were drawn from the Cuman populations of Anatolia, but there were sizeable minorities of Greeks and Armenians in their ranks. Armed with a composite bow, they were trained to loose concentrated missile volleys on their foes and then fight in melee with their maces and swords in support of the elite of the Roman army, the kataphraktoi. Together the two made up the heavy cavalry portion of the Roman army.

The kataphraktoi were the best trained and equipped soldiers in the Laskarid army, with absolute obedience demanded in exchange for their high salaries. Both horse and rider were armored at least in lamellar and mail, with the richer ones often in plate. Equipped with a kontos, two maces, and two swords, they existed for the charge, which they undertake at the gallop in Latin fashion, as opposed to the flying wedge formation of Nikephoros Phokas, performed at a fast trot at best. Rare was the force that could withstand their onslaught. More disciplined than Latin knights, they were always supported by skythikoi.

Each tagma also possessed its own artillery train of ‘great crossbows’, used as field artillery, which were divided amongst the tourmai. The frontier tagmata also possessed counterweight trebuchets for siege artillery, with the Anatolian tagmata possessing twice as many trebuchets. Also each tourma had its own medical personnel, paid in the same fashion as soldiers, with one doctor for every twenty soldiers. There was also a quartermaster corps, responsible for distributing supplies while on campaign, and which included the cooks. During battle, the quartermasters were also to make sure that the soldiers would be supplied food and drink if possible.

Each of the tagma were designed to be self-sufficient armies, capable of operating on the combined arms principle by itself. A tagma at full strength had 500 kataphraktoi, 500 skythikoi, 1000 koursores, 1000 Turkopouloi, 4000 skutatoi, 1000 akritoi, and 2000 toxotai. The tourmai had one tenth of each troop type. As best as possible, tagma organization was based on the decimal system, where multiples of ten served as the full strength size of most units.

After the tourma, the next smallest army unit was the droungos commanded by a droungarios. These were not combined arms forces, but consisted of only one troop type. They were one hundred strong, except for the droungos of the kataphraktoi and heavy horse archers, which were fifty men strong. The droungoi though were all of the same rank and pay grade, with the droungarios of the kataphraktoi second in command of the tourma.

The kontoubernionwere squads of ten men each commanded by a dekarchos. The heavy cavalry droungoi had five kontoubernion; the remainder had ten. This was the smallest Laskarid army organizational unit.

There were several army units outside of the tagma system. In Constantinople, Antioch, and Bari, units were stationed called archontates. They were equal in strength to tourmai, but had a higher number of infantry. They were designed to provide a permanent defense to a critical area of the Empire and were full-time professional troops. Bari’s elevation to an archontate is due more to Laskarid pride at its possession rather than its value as a seaport or its strategic location. There is no known incident where these troops were used outside of their home province.

Also barracked in Constantinople were the Athanatoi, the Immortals. This was a personal unit attached to the Emperor, although Konstantinos XI Laskaris did loan it to George Komnenos in his Bulgarian and Italian campaigns. The two thousand troops were full time soldiers, organized in troop types in the same ratio as tagma troops. Its internal organization was also identical to a tourma, but with double the number of smaller military units and officers.

Less important cities in the frontier themes were given permanent, full time garrisons as well called allagion that varied in size from 300 to 50, with most being only a hundred at most. These were entirely infantry formations (the archontates had some cavalry), existing to provide a professional core for a citizen army in case the city is attacked.

The frontier themes also had units called bandon which were commanded by a count. These were formations two hundred strong, who were paid and reviewed in the same manner as tagma troops. However these units were either entirely turkopouloi or half turkopouloi and half mounted akritoi. The akritoi would ride while on the march and fight dismounted. The continued Laskarid preference for Anatolia is shown in their positioning. There were eight stationed on the Anatolian frontier. Europe had three, two for the Bulgarian border and one for the Serbian.

This was the Roman army system in place in 1400. Under competent leadership it was deadly and under a genius it was unstoppable. Its main weakness was that its focus on discipline, training and combined arms tactics meant that under poor leaders, the army often ‘tripped over its own feet’. This system would face its greatest challenge in the person of Timur, whose invasion was the greatest threat to the Empire since the Fourth Crusade. As the Anatolian tagmata assembled in the spring of 1403, only time would tell how it would fare.

The distribution of Laskarid army units in 1390 (note that they have not changed position by 1403)​

Red=one tagma, although the troops are settled throughout their assigned theme​

Purple=Archontate, there is also one in Bari (off map)​

Green=Athanatoi, unique formation attached to the Emperor​

Brown=Bandon, each frontier theme has one bandon that is half Turkopouloi and half mounted akritoi. The remainder are pure Turkopouloi.​

The Kibyrrhaeots and the various Roman islands are kept outside of the regular tagma-theme system, as they are responsible for the upkeep of the Imperial fleet.​

And here is a short bit about some of the peripheral regions on the map.​

The Crimea/Ukraine: Most of the territory in question is under the control of the Blue Horde, the western and more powerful half of the Golden Horde, formed during the Mongol conquests. Theoretically the Blue Horde and the eastern White Horde are part of one larger state, but they function as two independent entities. In the past two decades relations between them have deteriorated dramatically, as the Blue Horde seeks to absorb the White Horde and create a Golden Horde that exists on more than paper. This is done to help compensate for losses in the west caused by Lithuania and Hungary.

The Principality of Theodoro is a Greek splinter state, left over from the Fourth Crusade. It does pay an annual tribute to Sarai, the Blue Horde capital, as protection money but is an independent state. For its size it is fairly wealthy, as it is perfectly located to play a major role in the Black Sea grain trade. In the principality itself, Greek merchants dominate the market.

Both the Venetians and Genoese have colonies in the region. Venice controls Soldaia and Kaffa, while Genoa controls Vosporo and Tana (both off map). Both Italian states are required to pay protection money to Sarai in order to keep their colonies. The Genoese colonies are slightly richer, but they are situated closer to Sarai and Genoese relations with the Blue Horde are poorer. Venice meanwhile has an ongoing border dispute with Theodoro, which claims that both Soldaia and Kaffa belong to the Principality.

Vlachia: Vlachia is not a state, but a geographical region named after its predominant ethnic group. It was under the control of the Blue Horde from the 1240s to the 1350s, but Sarai’s authority there was nominal after 1310. Divided into dozens of minor Vlach states, it is Hungary that claims suzerainty over the region. However Buda’s authority is also fairly weak and inconsistent. It is largely secured by periodic raids designed to enforce tribute payments and keep the Vlachs disunited and unorganized, as well as missionary efforts to convert the Vlachs to Catholicism.

The continual unrest in the region after the pullout of the Blue Horde is the reason that so many Vlachs have emigrated to the Roman Empire, being settled in eastern Anatolia as akritoi, a role in which they excel. The reason that Hungary has not attempted to annex the region outright is that concerns in the Holy Roman Empire and Dalmatia are more pressing. Also the Hungarian kings seek to “culturally conquer” the Vlachs through the Catholic missions, which if successful would require significantly less military expenses than an outright invasion and would secure a much more loyal population.

The Roman Laskarid Navy, c. 1400

The organization of the Roman navy in 1400 had many similarities to that of the army, but also some important variations. The region of Kibyrrhaeots, the southern coast of Anatolia, and the various Aegean islands and Cyprus, were the recruiting ground for the fleet. The sailors were paid in land estates, like the soldiers, and were reviewed in a similar fashion.

However the sailors were divided into two sections. In a six year cycle, each sailor would serve for three years on active duty, then return to their estates while the other section went on active duty. While inactive, the sailors were paid in cash, but the annual salary was only equal to one third of the value of the land, rather than equivalent as was the way with the army. Retention of this salary was contingent on maintenance of equipment and training, to be judged at the beginning of each of the five annual reviews.

While on active duty, the sailors were stationed in Constantinople with the Imperial fleet. In order to maintain discipline they were not allowed to bring their families, which were often needed to stay home and work the estates anyway. Then the sailors were paid the same salary as an akritos would receive while on campaign, which was almost a four hundred percent pay increase.

The Imperial fleet at Constantinople was kept at a strength of eighty galleys, which were all capable of being manned by one section of the Imperial sailors. While that was a force either Venice or Genoa could match, ships were quicker and easier to build than trained sailors. With the two section system, the Empire could theoretically field an armada of up to a hundred and sixty galleys, all with trained crews. This system was a recent innovation; Anna had developed it after the Laskarid civil war (1373-1376).

There were also separate squadrons stationed at Bari, Antioch, and Trebizond. The first two had eight galleys; the last one had five. The crews for those galleys were full-time sailors paid entirely in cash and housed in their respective towns. Mainly used to suppress pirates and keep the trade lanes secure, they were still trained to the same level as the Imperial fleet, which they would support if it was active in their region.

The Laskarid Economy, c. 1400

The Roman Empire prior to Timur’s invasion and the War of the Five Emperors was one of the most powerful states in the world economically. Its economy was highly monetized, with several types of coinage in circulation. There was a steady flow of currency as taxes and tolls went into Constantinople and came out again as wages and bonuses for soldiers and administrators and payments to contractors.

The structure of the Laskarid army encouraged trade throughout the empire. Regional trade fairs quickly grew up around the regular tourma and tagma reviews. While soldiers underwent their reviews, their families brought in extra produce from their farms and purchased needed supplies. The trade fairs that sprung up around the Thracesian and Optimates tagma reviews were among the largest in the known world.

Internal trade, which mostly consisted of agricultural products, was entirely in the hands of Roman merchants as the Italians rarely ventured beyond the coast. Also foreign merchants had to pay a five percent duty for transporting goods across theme boundaries, whereas natives only had to pay a two percent one. One of the most consistent features of Roman internal trade was the steady exchange of animal and plant products between central/east Anatolia and west/coastal Anatolia. One advantage for Roman merchants of this period was that the Laskarid bureaucracy, focused on maintaining the quality standards of the armed forces, paid little attention to commerce except to ensure that the appropriate duties were paid, which consisted of warehouse and dock rents and import/export duties.

The Laskarid government was determined that in terms of military equipment, no imports were necessary. While the state maintained the warehouse system that sold required equipment to soldiers, those warehouses were stocked by supplies from local independent contractors. Strict quality standards were fiercely enforced, with the supply of substandard weapons or armor considered a breach of contract. Those who violated a government contract in that manner were barred from accepting any other government contract for ten years. These government contracts were highly lucrative as the state provided the raw materials free of charge in the goal of maintaining quality.

The state also maintained stud farms so that there would also be an adequate supply of horses for the cavalry and logistical branches of the military. Cavalry soldiers were required to purchase their war horses from the stud farms to ensure quality standards. Strict breeding programs were maintained to ensure the high standards of the equines. Also there were Imperial forests, mostly located on the Black Sea coast of Anatolia, dedicated specifically for providing timber for the navy. To maintain them, for every tree cut down one had to be planted, a statute enforced by the Inspector of the Imperial Forests.

Foreign trade was contested between foreign and native merchants. Except for the Venetians and Genoese, every merchant, including native ones, had to pay a ten percent value tax on any imports or exports. The Venetians and Genoese only had to pay a two percent duty. However Roman merchants had an advantage in the luxury goods market as they were better situated to gain ready access to eastern markets and had already developed substantial contacts with Ottoman and Indian merchants by the time Venetian and Genoese trade duties were reduced to two percent in 1376. As a result most eastern goods that came through the Empire (via either the Silk Road to Trebizond or overseas from India up the Persian Gulf and through Mesopotamia to Antioch) were shipped west in Roman cargo vessels, where they usually disembarked in Bari. Eastern goods coming through the Red Sea to Alexandria on the other hand were typically shipped to Europe in Italian vessels.

The most valuable Roman raw material exports were alum, used to dye wool, and mastic, an ingredient in perfumes and chewing gum. Both were worth their weight in gold. Chios, the main supplier of mastic, contributed over 100,000 hyperpyra a year to the treasury in taxes, well over five times the rent the Venetians paid for Crete. (1) Other exports included olive oil, wine, sugar from Cypriot plantations, and grain (Anatolia could not compare to the Ukraine as a grain exporter, but during times of peace it was an important adjunct of the market in cereals). The dark wines from the Peloponnesus known as Malvasia, a corruption of Monemvasia, were particularly popular in the west. With their control of Coron and Modon, Genoese merchants dominated the export market for that product.

The Empire also exported manufactured goods. There were thriving textile industries around Nicaea and Corinth which specialized in producing both high and low quality garments for different income brackets, a shipbuilding industry centered on Trebizond, as well as glassmaking and soap industries concentrated in the Opsician theme. Jewelry manufactured in Sinope was renowned for its high quality throughout the Mediterranean.

Since the Empire deliberately produced most of its material requirements, the Empire inadvertently followed the ‘Chinese model’. With the exception of high quality Italian plate armor, very popular amongst the kataphraktoi, the West had very little to offer in terms of trade except for bullion. The steady stream of precious metals that flowed eastward was a great annoyance to Catholic monarchs and a great boon to the Roman Emperors.

The Italians mainly benefitted from their monopoly of the carrying trade. With the exception of eastern luxury goods, particularly spices, most Roman exports were carried in Italian vessels. Roman merchants specialized either in the eastern markets or in internal trade, both of which were still lucrative. Venice and Genoa also dominated the Black Sea trade, monopolizing the export of furs and slaves from the region. However in the Ukrainian grain trade, merchants from the independent Principality of Theodoro held a substantial share.

The Empire had a highly developed but somewhat complicated coinage system, most of which dated back to John IV’s reform of the coinage system. The most valuable coin was the hyperpyron, on which the value of all lower coins were based. It had originally been invented by Alexios Komnenos (1081-1118) with 20.5 karats of gold, roughly seven eighths the value of the old nomismata. It had been debased after that, but had been restored to its original value in 1287. Eighty four coins were equivalent to a pure one-pound bar of gold. The other gold coins in circulation were the gold semissis, worth one half of a hyperpyron, and the tesmissis, worth one fourth.


A gold hyperpyron from the reign of Manuel II Laskaris, 1316-1324​

There were two types of silver coins, the miliaresion, worth one tenth of hyperpyron, and the stavraton, worth one twentieth. Both the gold and silver coins were regularly used as international currency. Foreign coins containing precious metals could be used in Roman markets, but for matters of convenience foreign merchants preferred to exchange their ducats or florins, for example, for Roman currency.

The copper follis was the regular currency used by the majority of the population. One hundred folloi were equivalent to one hyperpyron. One follis was about the cost of a one pound loaf of bread. There was also a sefollis, worth one half of a follis, and a tesfollis, worth one quarter.

The copper coins were used purely for internal commercial transactions. Since foreign copper coins were not acceptable for such arrangements, foreigners were at a disadvantage participating in local trade. At the various established mints, foreigners could exchange their coins for copper Roman currency, but could only do so by exchanging legal international tender, gold or silver currency. Thus by needing to purchase everyday supplies foreign merchants contributed to the Empire’s bullion supplies. Also there was a five percent value tax levied on coin exchanges conducted at the mints, a tax specifically aimed at foreigners since Roman merchants operating abroad were still able to use their own precious Roman currency.

There were several mints scattered across the Empire in order to facilitate an adequate supply of currency. This was not done to facilitate commerce but to ensure that the government had adequate cash on hand to fulfill its financial obligations. There were three types of mints. Level One mints were authorized to produce all types of Roman currency. Level Two mints could only manufacture silver and copper coins. Level Three mints, by far the most common, could only make copper coins, but also functioned as monetary exchange centers. The other two types also did that as well, but not as often. When a money exchange was made at one of the Level Threes that required Roman silver or gold coins, they were drawn from on-site stockpiles. Foreign silver or gold coins gained in these transactions were transferred to higher level mints to be melted down into Roman coinage.

The Roman mints in 1400 were (listed in order of size):

Level One mints: Constantinople and Antioch (the latter regularly functioned as a money exchange site due to its prominence in east-west trade)

Level Two mints: Thessalonica, Nicaea, Smyrna

Level Three mints: Bari, Trebizond, Dyrrachium, Attaleia, Athens, Lemesos (Limassol), Monemvasia

The main reason that gold and silver coins were not used in everyday transactions, besides the fact that all but the stavraton were inappropriately valuable, was that taxes could only be paid in gold or silver. While this meant that there was a constant flow of precious metals to Constantinople, there was also a constant flow out to the provinces as bureaucrats and soldiers were also only paid in silver and gold.

At each of the mints, plus at exchange stations in Ancyra, Iconium, Sinope, Adana, Larissa, and Mystras, individuals could exchange their copper coins for silver or gold currency, but they were required to pay a ten percent exchange fee if they did so. The folloi were used by the government to help pay government contractors and to distribute as a sign of largesse. Individuals could also exchange precious coins for folloi without having to pay any fee. This enabled the central government to easily recoup its supply of precious currency, as soldiers exchanged their hyperpyra for the folloi they used in the markets.

The most important tax for the Roman treasury was the land tax levied every year. It was paid by every landowner, great or small, and was assessed on the size and quality of each estate. Every five years a land survey was taken across the Empire, grading each estate and determining its tax quota for the coming tax cycle. The only exception to this were tagma soldiers, who were exempted from the land tax as they had received their land grants from the state.

One of the reasons that the Laskarid economy was so strong was that taxes were just as vigorously enforced on the rich as they were on the poor. While wealthy landowners could potentially afford small private armies, they could not gain access to the high quality equipment supplied to Imperial troops through the warehouse system, and their retainers could not match the discipline of tagma troops either. To avoid aristocrats trying to intimidate tax collectors with their retainers, during his collection round the collector was authorized to order any soldiers, including a tagma strategos, to assist him in forcing compliance. So that the troops would be willing to aid him, for salary purposes this counted as active duty. Also Theodoros II, who hated the nobility, made a ruling in 1262 that if a noble were to attack or to hire or arrange someone else to attack a tax collector, it would be considered an act of high treason.

Another important tax was the head tax, which was levied on every household in the Empire, including the soldiers, and was gathered at the same time as the land tax. It was based on how many individuals were in each household, with variations based on the age and gender of the people in question. Thus a family with infants would have to pay less than one with children who were old enough to help in the family occupation. To ease the workload of the bureaucracy the census was conducted at the same time as the land survey.

For tax gathering purposes, the main administrative unit was the province, of which there were forty, four in each of the nine themes plus four in the non-theme territories. Each province was divided into ten sub-provinces, which were divided into ten districts. Tax collection was based in each district, then pooled and moved up the chain. Themes were not involved in the tax gathering process, but since province boundaries did not cut across the borders of themes, it proved to be quite easy for the claimants in the War of the Five Emperors to redirect the tax flow from Constantinople to their thematic capitals.

In towns and cities, tax gathering was somewhat more complicated. Every property owner had to pay a property tax, similar to the land tax, which were assessed in the land survey and based on the economic value of the buildings, whether they be houses, workshops, warehouses etc. If they were commercial buildings like a butcher shop or smithy, the assessments were based on the estimated annual income of the owner, taking into account the market prices of the product and the expected clientele. For example, a butcher who specialized in providing fish and poultry for poor artisans would be charged less than another butcher on the other side of town who regularly supplied veal for wealthy merchants. Non-commercial buildings such as houses were taxed based on how much they would fetch on the open market at the time of the survey. If individuals possessed properties both in the town and in the country, they were required to pay taxes on both.

Duties from trade and manufacturing made up a respectable minority of Imperial revenues. However those duties were only imposed on products that passed between themes or the national borders. Intra-theme trade, which mainly consisted of low-value high-bulk goods was not regulated or taxed. The expansion of the bureaucracy necessary to survey such commerce would likely cost more than the revenue gained. This had the incidental effect of encouraging more commerce. Small short-range merchants were able to establish businesses without being stifled by duties and were able to easily expand and soon began trading across themes, by which point they were able to survive the tolls.

The Plethon merchant family, one of the richest in the Empire in 1400, had started out by transporting low-quality Corinthian silks in small cargo haulers to the villages dotting the Corinthian gulf in the 1320s. Their profit margin was decent as they only had to pay property taxes on the warehouses and the ship tax, levied on all ship owners (excluding fishing boats used for that purpose) and based on the size of the ship, but no customs duties. Eventually they were able to expand their outreach, eventually monopolizing the transport of Corinthian silks to the Syrian theme, the source of their economic power. In his account of Konstantinos XI’s reign, John Pachymeres remarked that the Plethons’ taxes paid for the Constantinople archontate.

To improve the efficiency of tax gathering and reduce opportunities for embezzlements, there were few fees demanded beyond those of the regular taxes and customs duties. The main exceptions were that towns had to pay for a market license which had to be renewed every tax cycle, merchants had to pay a stall tax to establish a booth at a fair, and there was a fee required to construct mosques, although not churches. An inheritance tax was also required, but only on inheritances that were worth more than forty hyperpyra.

1) Treadgold, History of the Byzantine State and Society, OTL Chios in 1329 had an annual revenue of 120,000 hyperpyra.

The Battle of Cappadocian Caesarea

July 16, 1403, a few miles east of Cappadocian Caesarea

He sneezed. “Ah, dang it,” he muttered and tossed the mucus covered cloth to the side. It landed in a plain clay pot sitting on the brown carpet overlaying the reddish-brown ground. Picking up another, he dabbed it into the water filled clay bowl sitting on the rough wooden stand next to his cot, and gently patted the three inch scar trying to circle around his left thigh. Footsteps crunched outside the tent, causing a couple of small pebbles to bounce inside. The flap swung outward. “Hello, uncle,” Demetrios Komnenos said, not looking up.

George Komnenos, the second most powerful man in the Roman Empire, chuckled. “How did you know it was me?” he said in his bass voice while scratching the tip of his long nose.

Demetrios shrugged. “I just knew.”

George stared at him for a moment. “I sound heavier than all of your lieutenants, don’t I?”

Demetrios nodded. “I wasn’t going to say anything.”

“Your eyes say otherwise.” George’s eyes glanced down to Demetrios’ leg. “How is it?” he asked, gesturing toward the long red line, crisscrossed with black silk stitches. He’d gotten it three days earlier, a glancing blow from a Chagatai horse archer, in a minor skirmish.

“Oh, it’s fine. It just needs to be washed and the dressing changed every day.”

“Why don’t you have the physician do it?”

“I can do this by himself and he’s busy attending to the men.”

George nodded. “Anyway, the main reason I came is that you’re to report to the Emperor’s tent at noon; there’s to be a council meeting.”

“I will be there.”

“Good.” George turned and started to walk out, pausing at the tent entrance. “Oh, and I wanted to give you this.” He walked over as Demetrios sat up, pulling out a dirk clad in a black leather scabbard. “I know in your sword work you like to get in close because of your reach disadvantage.” Demetrios was only 5 foot, 2 inches tall. Demetrios reached out to take the dirk, his hand suddenly clasped by George’s, the pale skin of his uncle contrasting with his brown complexion, a legacy of his Turkish father. “Be careful, Demetrios. I promised your mother I would look after you.” He let go, leaving the dirk in his nephew’s hand.

“Don’t worry, uncle. You have not made that promise in vain.”

George, now at the tent entrance, nodded. “When you’re done here, see to your men. If God wills, battle will commence tomorrow and this barbarian will be finished by sunset.” On that note, he turned and left.

Demetrios finished dressing his wound and walked outside, his eyes squinting in the glare of the Anatolian sun. He looked up; there wasn’t a cloud to be see. Despite the heat, water had not been a problem. To the north the Halys meandered westward, drifting toward the city of Caesarea fifteen miles to the southwest.

However that was the Timurid water supply. The warlord was encamped eastward, south of the river just like the Romans, but upstream. George had therefore ordered that the Halys was not to be used for drinking or bathing, but merely to wash equipment; it was certain the Timurids were using it as a latrine. The Romans were using local wells and streams which were adequate provided the Romans did not remain for much longer.

However that meant that the Romans had to give battle soon, rather than continuing the skirmishing. If they didn’t crush the Timurids and gain access to fresh water by next week, the Roman host would have to pull back, leaving Caesarea exposed. Horrified by the massacre of Sebastea, the Emperor Theodoros was determined that another Roman city would not be so threatened.

Demetrios reached his horse tethered next to his tent under a canopy, scratching the equine’s nose gently. The mottled brown horse snorted. Demetrios continued scratching, sensing the presence of the man who silently glided up behind him. In his mind’s eye he saw the man’s right hand reach down, pulling his sword from his scabbard, shifting it up to point directly between his shoulder blades. The sword point was getting closer, closer, just about to touch Demetrios’ linen shirt.

He moved. Demetrios’ own sword flashed out of his scabbard into his right hand, parrying the man’s blade to Demetrios’ right, away from the horse. He stepped in as he parried, his new dirk snaking out in his left hand, driving toward his opponent’s unprotected ribcage. He stopped two inches short.

His eyes darted up to see the bearded grizzled face of his tutor, Michael of Abydos. There was no fear in his eyes. “Well, done, my lord.” Demetrios pulled his dirk back, allowing Michael to sheath his sword. Demetrios sheathed his. “Good, you play to your strengths. Remember what I always say?”

Demetrios nodded. “Brute force is the mark of a brute. Use speed instead, like the arrow.” He glanced away from the tall, burly Michael, who had just turned forty four; it was part of his teaching strategy to attack him at random intervals. As he spoke, he started untying the rope securing the horse.

Michael had been his tutor in the art of war since Demetrios was fourteen, teaching him all that he knew of fighting. Demetrios saw the small scar on Michael’s forehead; that was a year old wound, gained while attacking Timurid scouts south of Theodosiopolis.

“Oh, there’s no need. I watered him while you were tending to your leg.”

“Thanks. And how are you holding up?” He started walking south, towards the tents of his men. Michael, who was seven inches taller, easily caught up. “Well, all things considering.”

“And the men?”

“Morale is high, although that’ll change quickly when we run out of water. But until then, they’ve fought the enemy and they’re not afraid. Your uncle did well, making sure every unit got to fight at least one skirmish, so the men know what they’re facing.”

Several soldiers camped around a card game in the shade of a tent saw them approaching but Demetrios motioned them to stay where they were. He bent over their crouched backs. “So who’s winning?” He glanced to his left. “Ah, Ali, why am I not surprised?”

The Turk stared back. “Because all your money belong to us,” he replied in somewhat broken Greek.

Demetrios laughed. “Not likely.” He stood up. “Anyway, carry on. And make sure you get a full night’s rest.” He pointed at Ali, smiling. “And make sure he loses.” A chorus of enthusiastic “yes, my lord”s answered him. He started walking on.

July 17, 1403

Demetrios looked up. The sun glared back, unhindered by clouds. He glanced to his left. Sixty thousand Roman soldiers stood in full battle array, the sunlight glinting off the armored shells of the heavy cavalry and infantry. Behind the rows of skutatoi were the toxotai busy using their pavises as shade. Behind them were the melee cavalry, waiting to be committed to the battle. He couldn’t see the Emperor’s banner, but he knew it was directly behind the center of the line and that his uncle would be there as well. Any of Timur’s men trying to get to him would have to fight his way through the Opsician tagma and the Athanatoi. Meanwhile attendants scurried back and forth, making sure the men and horses were supplied with enough water.

The Roman army was in a north-south line, with the Halys river anchoring the left flank. The main concern, with Timur’s larger numbers, was the right flank, where he was stationed. To delay any outflanking maneuvers Demetrios had placed his tagma at a thirty degree angle to the rest of the Roman line, the southern end swinging westward, although his skirmishers were in a straight line, consistent with the light troops of the other tagmata.

His main concern was the potential gap that could arise between his men and the Chaldean tagma, commanded by a Turk named Iskander, stationed to his left. Currently he was atop his horse, directly behind the center of the Thracesian line. To the east the Timurid host sprawled like a black cloud steadily advancing from the horizon.

The Roman strategy for the battle was cautious, just like the campaign, but was calculated to exploit Timur’s aggressive tactics. The Romans would stand like a wall for Timur to beat his head against; once his strength had been whittled down sufficiently, even if that took a couple of days, only then would the Romans advance and flatten him with a combined kataphraktoi-skythikoi-skutatoi attack.

A horse snorted and Demetrios looked over to his left as his first and second tourmarches rode up. The commander of the first tourma was Michael of Abydos; the commander of the second was a stocky Vlach named Dragos cel Mare. Dragos squinted as light reflected off Demetrios’ plate cuirass, his twenty first birthday present from his uncle, and splashed into his eyes. “Are the kataphraktoi in position?” Demetrios asked.

“Yes, strategos,” Michael replied.

“Are they clear on their orders?”

“Nothing gets through the line,” Dragos rumbled. “Not even the devil himself.”

“Good. And the scouts?”

“Timur’s moving up his whole force. He can’t let us sidle up to his camp unchallenged without losing face in front of the tribal chiefs. Also there’re reports of rumors in Timur’s camp that the Osmanlis are on the move again.”

“Which means, if they’re true, that he wants this over with as much as we do.” Demetrios flicked the reins, starting to ride down the small hillock on which he had been standing, the two officers following.

There was silence for the thirty seconds it took for them to reach the main line of the Thracesian tagma. He motioned for his trumpeter to join him and then gestured toward the horizon, where thick clouds of dust were spewing upwards. He could see the swirling clouds of Timurid skirmishers, already trading bolts with the forward Turkopouloi, and behind them the massed ranks of Timur’s host.

“Gentlemen, get to your tourma. Order the great crossbows to hold their bolts; I don’t want their ammunition wasted on skirmishers. And remember, nothing gets through that line. And Dragos, tell Droungarios Muzalon that if I find any of his koursores in front of my battle line without my express order, I will have his head. Is that clear?”

They both answered in the affirmative and rode off, Demetrios focusing his attention in front of him. The Turkopouloi were falling back, shooting in Parthian fashion at their pursuing enemy counterparts. They were almost upon the line of akritoi. Despite the openness of the terrain, the gathering dust clouds and their fixation on the Roman cavalry meant that the Timurid horse archers did not spot the crouched figures of the light infantry…until it was too late. Javelins flew, stabbing into the hearts of the horses. The riders did not long outlive their mounts; those were not crushed by the weight of their mounts were decapitated by the arm of an akritos.

The surviving skirmishers fell back, sped on their way by a flight of arrows streaking out the toxotai. They soon came back, swirling close enough to loose a few arrows and then retreat out of range, the turkopouloi and akritoi shooting back. Units running low on ammunition would peel back to the main line and rearm, then return to the fight. Meanwhile the toxotai drungi lashed out at any Timurid soldiers foolish enough to enter their range. As far as Demetrios could tell, the skirmishing was going on all along the Roman line while Timurid foot archers marched forward to help support the screen.

Except for the extreme right. None of the Thracesians had been engaged except for the skirmishers and the men on the far left, where the tagma joined the Chaldeans. A Turk galloped up, his mount spewing foam. “Strategos, there’s an enemy contingent, seven thousand strong, attempting to outflank the right. They’re using the dust clouds to shield their movements. But they’re headed straight for the skutatoi on the far right!” If the Roman army had been in a continuous straight line, they would suddenly have appeared behind the Roman lines. But Timur did not know that the Roman flank was bent; the disposition of the Thracesian screen was consistent with that of the other light troops.

“Courier!” Demetrios barked, turning to look at a boy, no more than fifteen, mounted on a tall mare. “Go to Strategos Iskander. Tell him I need two kataphraktoi and two skythikoi drungi now, assembled with the Thracesian Tenth tourma. Go.” As commander of the flank tagma, he had seniority over any tagma commander stationed to the right of the emperor. He turned back to look at the Turk. “Composition?”

“Two thousand heavy cavalry, Persian lancers most likely.” The great cities of eastern and central Persia were the source of most of Timur’s heavily armored troops due to their wealth, but many of them were recent additions to Timur’s domain, which meant that their troop contingents were not necessarily the most zealous. “And five thousand infantry, all heavy. Armored in lamellar. No sign of archers, horse or foot.”

“No, there wouldn’t. Timur needs them making as much noise as possible in front.” Foot archers from both sides were now engaged in a missile duel, the black sheets blocking out the sun. The great crossbows began to loose. “Courier!” he barked at another boy. “I want the heavy cavalry and koursores drungi of the Fourth through Tenth tourma assembled at the far right of the line now.”

* * *

Arman muttered to himself as he trudged along, his boots swaddled in cloth to silence his footsteps, along with the footsteps of the thousands of soldiers next to him. Here he was, thousands of miles from his home in Herat and he was certain they were lost, wandering around in the dust clouds that clogged the air between the two armies, as well as his nostrils. A small voice in his head reminded him that that dust was also shielding him from Roman arrows. He could hear the screams of dying men and horses to the north, skewered by the ferocious missile volleys that steadily swept out from the Roman lines, a broom sweeping away the lives of men.

Swearing under his breath and wishing that he was back home with his wife and five year old son, he looked to his left; he was on the flank. The more valuable heavy cavalry were in the rear, but the lack of any screen was making him nervous. Due to the fierce resistance of the Roman light troops and the heavy casualties inflicted on their Timurid equivalents, the warlord was unwilling to divert skirmishers to cover the flanking attack lest by doing so and slackening the pressure on the Roman front, he alerted the Romans to the presence of that attack.

An arrow bounced off his helmet. Arman squinted; he could see the shadows of four light Roman horse, who spat out a couple of arrows and scurried off, leaving a high pitched wail of pain in the Timurid ranks. They kept marching on.

He could hear them whistling, falling amongst the men in front. Many clunked off armor, but the sickening sounds of arrows smacking into flesh and the shrieks of men suddenly screaming for their mothers showed that many had struck their mark. Where were the arrows coming from? A light breeze was blowing, tossing the dust clouds to the side, allowing him to make out the outlines of hundreds of infantrymen, standing directly in front of them. What?! We’re supposed to be behind…we’re lost and ran directly into the whole freaking Roman army!

The Roman infantry began steadily and uniformly banging their spears against their shields, the crashing sound rolling over the Timurid formation. It was positively eerie, that sound. The Roman soldiers did not yell, did not chant, but continued the pounding. It was not the sound of an army of men, but the sound of a force of nature.

The man in front of him collapsed, an arrow skewering his neck from left to right. The dust cloud to the left vomited out five hundred more. More men shrieked and screamed, the line wavering as men collapsed and men panicked as more arrows slammed into the ranks from the infantry in front and more from the cloud on the left.

There was a sound of thunder coming from the cloud as well, the sound of many very heavy things hitting the ground over and over again. The cloud roared “St. Theodoros!” One thousand Roman horse exploded out of nowhere. The Timurid lines shattered. Arman dodged the lance of a kataphraktoi, his sword skittering harmlessly off the armor. He turned, seeing a less armored horseman raising his mace. Darkness.

* * *

Demetrios bit off a piece of bread, looking up as Michael of Abydos approached. Behind him servants scurried from the camp, carrying bread soaked in chicken broth, cheese and watered wine for the soldiers. While there was a letup in the attack, the men were to eat; there hadn’t been any opportunity for a lunch break. Other servants carried less tasty items, replacement arrows and javelins for the toxotai and akritoi.

After using the Turkopouloi as spotters for the toxotai,the kataphraktoi charge had completely shattered the Timurid flanking force, running down over three thousand men and scattering the remainder. Since then there had been no more attempted flanking maneuvers but repeated probes against the Chaldean and left Thracesian tagma, backed up by occasional assaults concentrated on the meeting point between the two tagmata. In the last attack, five hundred Timurid infantry had managed to punch through, only to be flattened by Michael’s and Dragos’ kataphraktoi.

“The men are holding up well; they’re tired but I doubt the Timurids will try that spot again. They’ve lost at least fifteen hundred trying.”

“And the Chaldeans? I’ve heard that their center is being hit hard.”

“It is, but it’s holding. Melissenos…” That was the commander of the Anatolic tagma, stationed to the left of the Chaldeans. “…loaned Iskander his reserves and half his koursores.”

Demetrios bolted up onto his feet. “What, why doesn’t he need them?”

“He’s barely been attacked. Just a few probes his screen easily fended off. He’s close to the center; Timur is concentrating on the wings.”

Causing reserves to be pulled from the center to the wings, Demetrios thought. But he allows his targets to grow stronger while over a third of his army has yet to engage at all. Unless… “Courier! I want a report on the Opsicians and the Athanatoi now!” The startled boy stared at him for a moment. “Move! Or you’re out with the screen!” The boy scampered up onto his horse and galloped northwards.

Michael stared at him. “What’s wrong, my lord?”

“Probably nothing. But I want to be sure just in case.”

The boy was gone for over two hours, by which time the sun was getting close to setting; the battle had been going on for nearly all day, but ever since Demetrios had sent the boy, attacks on the right had dwindled down to almost nothing. And there was no news from the center. Dust clouds churned up by the wind had reduced visibility to less than a half mile. There was the steady sound of a continuous skirmish where the Chaldeans were stationed, but he could hear nothing from the center.

“Strategos! Strategos!” the boy yelled, his voice cracking. His mount was panting foam, her sides heaving in and out, struggling to draw breath.

“Well, speak up!” Demetrios demanded, nudging his horse with his left knee to get him to trot over to where the boy had stopped.

“Strategos, they’ve broken through.”

Demetrios’ heart stopped. “What do you mean exactly?”

“Massive Timurid assault, over thirty thousand. Punched through the Opsicians and enveloped the Athanatoi. The Emperor is completely surrounded, but he’s still fighting.”

Michael galloped up. “Michael, good. I want all tourmai prepared to abandon their positions and swing northeast; we need to relieve the center now.”

“I heard the news already from a scout. I must recommend against this action.”

“This is no place and time to argue. Boy, go.”

“Wait!” Michael bellowed, grabbing Demetrios’ reins. The boy stopped, glancing nervously between the two men.

“What are you doing, tourmarches?”

“Talking sense into you. The center is broken and Timur is hitting the left wing on two sides; it won’t last long. And Timur still has fifteen thousand men not in action. If you swing the right wing in to help the center, he’ll throw those reserves in to pin you from behind, then once he’s smashed the left he’ll turn around and crush you. We could lose the whole army, not just the center.”

“What do you suggest then?” he snarled.

“Retreat. Order the Chaldeans and the Anatolics to fall back as well. That way some will be saved.”

“Three of seven, that’s hardly worth anything.”

“It’s better than zero of seven.”

“I will not abandon the emperor. It is my duty…”

“Your duty is to the empire,” Michael hissed. “If you try to save the emperor, you will fail and likely lose the empire as well. Do you want history to remember you as the man who brought down a thousand year empire, the man who brought down Rome?”

Two seconds. “Damn you,” Demetrios snarled. “Damn you for being right.” He sighed. “It’ll be night soon. We can fall back then; it’ll be hard on the men, but we have no choice.” Michael nodded. “Spread the word, but keep the men from panicking,” Demetrios continued.

“Yes, strategos.” Michael rode off. Demetrios glared at the boy, still gaping at him. He closed his mouth and scurried off.

Demetrios was alone, looking off to the distance. Rhomanion has lasted for a thousand years, he thought. But I swear, on my father’s grave, on my mother’s grave,…on my uncle’s grave, that it shall not die on my watch. This I do swear. Behind him the bottom of the sun caressed the earth, bathing the horizon in crimson light.
Part 2

The War of the Five Emperors


"And thus the great warlord departed the land of the Romans. Yet the evil he brought with him did not depart with him, for he was but the first horseman of the apocalypse."-excerpt from John Pachymeres, The Histories

1403 continued: The Battle of Cappadocian Caesarea is a crushing defeat for the Roman army with the loss of over twenty seven thousand men. On the left wing, Nicholas Laskaris, a cousin of the emperor and commander of the Optimates tagmata, is able, barely, to keep the left wing intact despite grievous losses until nightfall, when it is able to retreat, much to the joyful surprise of the strategoi of the right wing. It is a very near thing. If Timur had had even one more hour of daylight or if the Athanatoi had not tied down so many of his troops, he would have wiped out the left wing. Due to heavy losses amongst his skirmishers during the morning actions, Timur is unable to pursue.

Timur’s losses are also rather high, about twenty thousand. Despite his failure to annihilate either of the Roman wings, he crippled the Opsician tagma, which suffered over sixty percent losses. His attack on the center was conducted by his fresh heavy troops on a line lacking significant reserves to plug the breaches, allowing him to punch through and envelope the Athanatoi, who were annihilated before nightfall but only after exacting a gruesome toll on their assailants. The Opsicians that were not surrounded along with the Emperor’s guard followed their training, joining up with the nearest intact tagma.

According to Pachymeres, a Timurid soldier approached the Emperor Theodoros III Laskaris at dusk, by which time nearly all of the Athanatoi had been killed, and said, “Come. My lord Timur summons you.” The Emperor replied, “Only God can summon me,” and ran the soldier through with his kontos, then charged into the mass of Timurid soldiery to be cut down a moment later.

George Komnenos, on the other hand, is captured alive and brought after dark to Timur’s tent just as he loses a game of chess to his son Pir Mohammed. Timur decides to keep him alive as a prisoner, carting him off to Samarkand in a cage. George Komnenos dies in 1406, although whether he killed himself or was strangled to death on the order of Timur is unknown.


The painting The Lord of Asia and his captive, George Komnenos by Ludovico Buvalelli, 1489. George is painted as a Turk due to a phrase uttered by the famous theologian and writer William of Steyn, a personal friend of Ludovico, who said in 1487 that the Roman people were "half-greek, half-turk, combining the worst aspects of both races."​

After the battle Timur marches on to Cappadocian Caesarea, the battered and demoralized Roman tagmata wisely staying out of his way, where the inhabitants pay him 400,000 hyperpyra for him to spare the city. Meanwhile the Roman army is forced to scatter due to lack of supplies. After they do so, flying columns split off from Timur’s force, extracting payments from many of the cities of central Anatolia, with Iconium and Ancyra paying the most. One column marches as far west as Chonae, getting over 200,000 hyperpyra in payment, but is destroyed by Demetrios and the Thracesian tagma on its way back from Caesarea.

After that Timur’s army turns east, marching out of Anatolia, leaving a garrison in Theodosiopolis but at no points further west. Since the Empire can still draw on European reserves which are completely intact, he does not believe he can hold any points deeper into Anatolia. Anyway Timur has accomplished his main objective, to punish the Romans for the breaking of the treaty, and has also acquired a significant amount of spoils despite the loss of the Chonae column. His main force however never marches west of Caesarea as a situation is developing in Mesopotamia.

That situation is Mehmed the Conqueror, who has finally begun his counteroffensive. Since the Battle of Baghdad he has steadily gathered together an army, supplementing his Turkish troops with Arabs from Al-Hasa and Oman, and even some contingents of Indian mercenaries. When he launches his attack in June 1403, his army is fifty five thousand strong, although its quality is not as good compared to the army he had at the Battle of Baghdad. He recaptures Baghdad ten days after the battle of Cappadocian Caesarea.

Timur’s response is somewhat delayed while he gathers reinforcements in Armenia, even hiring two thousand Georgians as mercenaries. In September he is attacked by an assassin who wounds his left leg, giving Timur a limp for the rest of his life, but fails to kill him. The assassin is dispatched by one of the Georgian mercenaries and in gratitude Timur swears never to invade his homeland. The assassin was in the employ of Mehmed.

The two meet in battle again at Tikrit on December 1. The Indian mercenaries defect at the beginning of the battle and Mehmed is utterly defeated as well as captured. Infuriated at the attempted assassination, Timur orders Mehmed and all of the Turkish commanders of units over the size of 200 to be impaled. The Arab leaders are spared. When Mehmed’s son and heir Osman II in Basra hears the news he says “I swear, on my father’s butchered body, that I, or my descendants, will one day stand in the ruins of Samarkand and spit on the grave of Timur.”

For the moment though he is forced to shelve that oath. Osman II offers to rule the southern third of Mesopotamia (Timur retook Baghdad without a fight on December 12) as a vassal of Timur and provide yearly tribute and a contingent to serve in Timur’s army. Having been gone from Samarkand for over a decade, Timur accepts and returns home.

Timur’s departure to Central Asia is met with great sadness in Catholic Europe. To the Catholics, Timur is viewed as the great king Prester John, marching out to crush Islam and liberate the Holy Land, an impression that is supported by Timur’s drive on Jerusalem. But according to Catholics, the great king is forced to retreat thanks to Greek treachery, for which they are punished at Cappadocian Caesarea. But still not chastised, those Greeks then attempt to assassinate the great king but fail thanks to the intervention of an angel. Yet the great king, disillusioned by the actions of the Greeks against him, decides to return home. However the story ends with his promise to return someday and finish the task he left unfinished, the salvation of Jerusalem. But this he will not do until the Greeks are destroyed, a task he leaves to the “pure and noble hearted Christians of the west, a people that will do great and glorious deeds once they complete this holy task”.

Meanwhile the situation in the Empire is confused at best. After the battle and Timur’s retreat, what is left of the various tagmata return to their home districts. Despite the loss of the Emperor and George Komnenos, only one tagma strategos perished at Cappadocian Caesarea, the strategos John Kantakuzenos, commander of the Opsician tagma. Nicholas Laskaris assumes control of what is left of the force.

Theodoros III’s successor is his only child, his son John V, but he is only eight months old. John’s mother, Maria of Barcelona, a sister of the king of Aragon-Sicily Jaime V, assumes control of the regency. However as a Catholic and foreigner she is very unpopular, which is not helped by her friendliness with the Venetian bailo, which earns her the ire of the Imperial sailors and marines.

Nicholas Laskaris, who can trace his descent back to Theodoros the Great, claims that the throne rightfully belongs to him in early September. Both of his tagmata, the Optimates and the Opsician join his cause, along with their associated themes. While he has control of two of the richest districts in the Empire, he has no fleet and one of his two tagmata is at less than half strength. To bolster his position, he is crowned Emperor of Nicaea on October 1. He also uses the tax gathering system already in place in the provinces to continue paying his troops without relying on the central bureaucracy (each theme is designed to be able to pay its tagma with its own resources, although the money goes from the provinces, is pooled in Constantinople, then redistributed back to the provinces), even giving them their biannual equipment bonus on time.

Maria, aware that she is unpopular amongst both her troops and sailors, decides she needs another support. Aragon-Sicily is too far away to be of use and is too distracted by the Marinids anyway. So she takes the commander of the Thracian tagma, Basil Palaeologus, as her lover despite the fact that he is fifty six and she is twenty one. She also turns to the Venetians, signing a treaty with the bailo in November. In the treaty the Venetians agree to patrol the Aegean and Marmara and protect Maria against any attacker to the best of their ability. In exchange Venice is no longer required to pay rent for Crete, is ceded the islands of Euboea, Kythera, Andros, Lemnos, and Imbros, and only has to pay a measly one percent import/export duty. The only thing she does not give the Venetians is an abrogation of the treaty of Dyrrachium.

Whatever support Maria has amongst the Roman population in Constantinople vanishes as soon as news of the treaty hits the streets. Even her supporters in court complain that she did not have to give the Venetians so much. A rioting mob besieges the Blachernae palace and has to be dispersed by the troops of the Constantinople archontate. In December Thomas Laskaris, commander of the Macedonian tagma, and his brother Basil, governor of Apulia, revolt against Constantinople. They both can trace their descent back to John IV Laskaris.

Thomas has his sights set on the throne and mirroring Nicholas has himself crowned Emperor of Macedonia and Hellas in Larissa. His brother, less ambitious and with less troops and further from the capital, merely declares himself King of Apulia and attempts to set up an independent state.

1404: The independence of Apulia is short lived for in February a Neapolitan army appears at the gates of Bari. With only the Bari archontate and a few poorly trained levies at his command, Basil capitulates after a siege of a day. Apulia becomes a vassal of Naples, paying fifty percent of its annual income and obligated to provide a contingent of 800 troops for the Neapolitan army on command. If on active duty, the Apulian contingent is paid by Basil for the first ninety days, after which the King of Naples is responsible for their pay.

There are a few desultory skirmishes between the Thracian and Macedonian tagmata near Thessaloniki, which is under Maria’s control, but since each side only controls one tagma, they are reluctant to risk serious losses. Anatolia is also quiet. Meanwhile Thomas begins to make preparations for the creation of more tagmata in his realm, confiscating the estates of Maria’s supporters to help provide land grants. Maria attempts to do the same, but is met by riots across her domains. To bolster her troop count, she begins recruiting Latin mercenaries. At the beginning she is able to pay for them using her own resources, but due to her drastically decreased tax revenue she is soon forced to turn to Venetian loans.

Technically, she still controls five of the seven Asian themes, but she is afraid to order the strategoi to attack Nicholas for fear that they will join him instead. What actually happens is almost as bad for Maria. In March, Manuel Doukas, commander of the Coloneia tagma, with the support of the Chaldean and Syrian tagmata, is proclaimed Emperor of Trebizond. While he has the most troops, he has the least legitimacy. His popularity amongst the frontier troops is due to his vigorous and victorious raids conducted against the garrison troops of Timurid Armenia. However he does not push to re-conquer the region for fear of drawing the warlord back from Samarkand.

Three weeks later Demetrios Komnenos also revolts, declaring himself Emperor of Smyrna and claiming the throne due to his Komnenid blood and his Laskarid wife Zoe, who would have been Empress if John V had not been born. He is supported by the Anatolic tagma, which he immediately uses to annex the Kibyrrhaeots, the recruiting ground for most of the Imperial fleet and where the sailors have their families and estates. He is rewarded by the defection of three quarters of the Imperial fleet, which he uses to take Rhodes and Cyprus.

Some encourage him to march on Constantinople, but to have even a small chance of success he would have to take his whole army. That would leave his territories defenseless and allow Manuel or Nicholas to seize them, which means if he failed at Constantinople, a likely possibility since his non-frontier themes lack siege artillery, he could lose his bid for the throne.

For three months after Demetrios begins his revolt, there is silence across the Empire, the calm before the storm. In July, simultaneous border skirmishes between the Optimates and Chaldeans and between the Thracians and Macedonians cause the cold civil war to turn into a hot war. Essentially there are two civil wars ongoing. The one in Europe is between Thomas Laskaris and Maria with her Venetian allies. The Anatolian civil war is much more confusing as it is a three way struggle between the Laskarid, the Komnenid, and the Doukid. Since the initial battles are between the Laskarid and the Doukid, Demetrios uses the reprieve to have his fleet seize Samos, Chios, and Lesbos.

Off Lesbos, the sixty ships of the Smyrnan fleet are attacked by a Venetian squadron thirty four vessels strong, who swoop in to engage before realizing how outnumbered they are. The Smyrnan victory is total, with the Venetians losing eleven ships, eight of them captured, while sinking only one Greek galley. Two weeks later a truce is signed between Demetrios and Venice, whereby Demetrios agrees to stay out of Europe and Venice agrees to stay out of Asia. While both sides know that it will not last, for now it suits both of them.

Maria is irate over the treaty, which was made without her approval, but her position is untenable without the Venetian fleet. She controls Corinth and Thessalonica, but Thomas controls everything in between. The Peloponnesus, although part of the Macedonian theme, is governed by Manuel Angelos, whose family lives in Constantinople. Because of that plus the fact that none of the tagma troops have estates in his province, he remains loyal to Maria. Thomas had made an effort to seize the region, but demonstrations by the Thracian tagma along the Vardar coupled with the expedited dispatch of a Latin mercenary garrison to Corinth had stopped the attempt. But her divided realm is kept together only with Venetian sea power. Genoa, while extremely disturbed by this whole affair, is unable to stop the Venetians due to a war with Aragon-Sicily over control of Corsica.

Nicholas, who is short on land due to the small size of his themes, but not so short on money, creates a new unit of Athanatoi to replace the old one lost at Cappadocian Caesarea. Like the pre-Caesarea version this unit of full time professional soldiers paid entirely in cash, when it is finally completed in early 1405, numbers two thousand strong.

Meanwhile in all the Asian themes, the usual replacement procedures are in effect to rebuild the battered tagmata. Sons of soldiers are confirmed in their possession of their father’s lands, rights, and responsibilities. This is preferable as the heirs, expecting an inheritance eventually, usually have at least some military training. If suitable family heirs are not available, regular farmers are often transplanted to vacant estates and converted into tagma troops. Obviously these recruits have little to no experience when it comes to the art of war.

To the north, King Andrew III Arpad of Hungary invades the Duchy of Austria, enraged at Duke Otto IV Wittelsbach of Bavaria’s ‘usurpation of his rightful title of Holy Roman Emperor’. Unfortunately for Andrew, only the elector of Saxony supports him. Otto IV likens himself to Emperor Otto I, once again defending ‘the lands of the German people against the Magyar menace’.


In terms of territorial losses, the war with Timur did not do much damage to the Roman Empire. Although he had the opportunity to do so after Caesarea, Timur did not try to incorporate Anatolia into his domain. He had already conquered Persia, Mesopotamia, Armenia, and Syria within the last decade and had yet to fully establish his authority in all but the first by 1403.​

There was also the fact that the Romans could draw upon the undamaged European tagmata. After Caesarea, Timur’s army was down to sixty five thousand effectives while the Romans were at forty five thousand. However if the European tagmata joined with the Army of Asia, the Romans would match Timur numerically. Being faced with another bloody battle like Caesarea was not something that appealed to Timur, which would have been guaranteed if he had tried a serious conquest of Anatolia.​

The main damage of Timur’s invasion was caused by the civil war that followed shortly afterwards. By mid 1404 all of the players had declared their ambitions and while fighting had started, territories had not changed hands except for several islands in the Aegean. Unless otherwise indicated, all Aegean islands are under Maria’s control.​

Here is a breakdown of the forces available to each of the contenders (does not include naval units), who are listed in order of greatest to least legitimacy.

Empress Maria: 11,400 soldiers-Thracian tagma, Constantinople archontate, and two banda. This figure does not include assorted mercenary contingents. While she, or more specifically her son John, is the rightful ruler of the Empire and controls Constantinople, she is extremely unpopular amongst her soldiers and subjects. Due to this she has extreme difficult in expanding her native Roman forces and is forced to rely on Venetian aid and Latin mercenaries, which further damage her popularity.

Thomas Laskaris, Emperor of Macedonia and Hellas: 10,200 soldiers-Macedonian tagma, one banda. His main advantage is that his lands are capable of supporting many more soldiers, unlike the Asian claimants whose provinces are already close to their carrying capacity in terms of expanding the tagma-theme system. He is also the only claimant who doesn’t need a fleet to attack Constantinople. However his domain is the most exposed to attacks from the west.

Nicholas Laskaris, Emperor of Nicaea: 14,000 soldiers-under strength Optimates and Opsician tagmata. He controls two of the wealthiest provinces in the Empire but lacks a fleet and his two tagmata were both seriously damaged at Caesarea. Also his territories are small and lack defensive depth, making him vulnerable to swift attacks.

Demetrios Komnenos, Emperor of Smyrna: 16,000 soldiers-under strength Thracesian and Anatolic tagmata. While Thracesia is just as rich as Nicholas’ themes, the Anatolic theme is the poorest in the Empire. He has the most territory of any of the claimants, but the bulk of that is taken up by the Anatolic theme. He also has the most powerful fleet of any of the claimants, and his tagmata took the least casualties of any tagma at Caesarea.

Manuel Doukas, Emperor of Trebizond: 23,000 soldiers-under strength Chaldean, Coloneian, and Syrian tagmata, Antioch archontate, and eight banda. He has absolutely no blood claim at all to the throne while even Demetrios can claim one through his Laskarid wife. However he controls the most troops of all the contenders as well as the cities of Trebizond and Antioch, both rich ports that serve as western termini for the Silk Road. Still, he is the furthest from Constantinople and on the eastern frontier, where a low-scale border war is in effect with Timurid Armenia.

1405: In Europe, the civil war is a stalemate as troops march and counter-march all over the border region between the Macedonian and Thracian themes, the goal being possession of the city of Thessalonica. Thomas Laskaris uses his horse archers to great effect, luring Maria’s Latin mercenaries into repeated ambushes where they are annihilated. Meanwhile behind the front he is busily creating tagmata for Epirus and Hellas.

The Hellas theme is somewhat of an oddity, as the plans for its creation were contingent on control of the Peloponnesus. For now he establishes land grants for as much of the tagma as possible, roughly forty percent of the soldiers, while promising land to the remainder when the peninsula is taken. Meanwhile he does not push the offensive, not wanting to risk his single tagma now before he can reinforce it. While the Thracian tagma may not care for Maria, it is willing to fight for its homes. He is also hampered in his war effort by a series of small Serbian raids across the border.

Bulgaria invades Maria’s piece of the Empire in April. With all her forces to the west fighting Thomas, she begs Venice to dispatch galleys to the Danube and pillage Bulgaria. The Venetian response is dilatory until she offers free trade to the Venetians; they will not have to pay any customs duties of any kind. The Venetians accept, suddenly springing into action. Venetian squadrons sail up the Danube, pillaging and burning all of the countryside within ten miles of the river.

Clearly needing more troops, Maria also pawns the Crown of Thorns as collateral for a loan to purchase more mercenaries. With those new mercenaries, coupled with an independent Serbian invasion of Bulgaria which pushes the border to the Morava, she is able to convince the Bulgarians to withdraw, although both they and the Venetians are allowed to keep all of their loot. Meanwhile Demetrios’ spies in Constantinople inform him of the planned transfer of the Crown of Thorns to Venice. Recognizing the opportunity he violates his treaty with Venice and ambushes the convoy carrying the relic off the coast of Ikaria, capturing it and bringing it in triumph to Smyrna. While the war with Venice resumes after the battle, Demetrios rightfully considers it a win.


Portrait of the Regent Maria of Barcelona, painted in 1479. While this portrait was made well after her death, historians are fairly certain it is an accurate portrayal as it is claimed to be a copy of another portrait made in 1405 which no longer exists, although the second version did take advantage of improvements made in the art of painting over the course of the fifteenth century. At the time of the original portrait she was twenty three. The original was part of The History of the Roman Empire in Art, an exhibition sponsored by the Emperor in Constantinople in the late 1470s.

While she was extremely unpopular amongst her Greek subjects, she was said to be an extremely charming woman in person. She had a great deal of support in court, which was how she maintained her position as regent and control over the central bureaucracy. Unfortunately for her, her diplomatic skills did not extend beyond those individuals with whom she could interact on a personal level. Still her feminine charms proved to be very useful as they gave her the unquestioning loyalty of Basil Palaeologus, the commander of the Thracian tagma, without whose support she would never have survived the Patriarch Incident.

Meanwhile in Anatolia, Demetrios is forced to join the land war in May when the Syrian tagma invades the Anatolic theme. Thus far Manuel has been following an ‘aggressive defense’ strategy in regards to his western border. Sending out swarms of small raiding parties, these light columns harass enemy forces and keep them off balance so that they are unable to launch a concentrated offensive. That strategy is also useful as a preliminary stage to a general offensive conducted by the raiding side.

However Manuel’s younger son Michael favors more aggressive tactics. A brave man, he wages war with more enthusiasm than skill. His older brother George is not a soldier but a doctor, who in the 1390s went abroad and studied the medical techniques of both Muslim and Hospitaller healers. He is the archiatros ton tagma (translation: Chief Physician of the Division, the commander of the 500 doctors attached to a tagma as well as the personal physician of the strategos) of the Coloneia tagma and the personal physician of his father. While there are the inevitable charges of nepotism few believe that George’s ability is inadequate to his station.

It is Michael Doukas who convinces his father to unleash the Syrian tagma on Demetrios, breaking the unofficial truce between the two claimants. Demetrios orders John Melissenos, commander of the Anatolic tagma, to fight a holding action while he invades the Opsician theme with the Thracesian tagma. With only a few small garrisons in the region due to the Opsician tagma campaigning near Sinope, Demetrios is able to capture all of the theme west of Poemanenum, including that city as well as the theme’s capital of Abydos, but is unable to continue when he receives news that Melissenos has been defeated at Pracana.

After installing garrisons in his conquests, Demetrios rushes east and defeats the Syrian tagma near Iconium, driving it back across the border between the Anatolic and Syrian themes but does not pursue beyond that line. With Nicholas and Manuel fully engaged in Paphlagonia, Demetrios begins making preparation to expand the tagma-theme system in his territories. He does not feel it would be wise to engage in further offensives until he has enough troops to match Manuel.

Far to the north, a marriage alliance is negotiated between Mikhail, King of Novgorod, and Gvidas, Grand Duke of Lithuania, whereby the heirs of both, Boris and Ieva, are united in matrimony. Ieva converts to Orthodox Christianity before her marriage which takes place in Pskov on June 30. If Gvidas dies without a male heir, which is likely since he is sixty nine and in poor health, then the crowns of Novgorod and Lithuania will be combined in a dynastic union.

1406: The civil wars in Europe and Asia continue, although at the noise of a rumble and not a roar. Realizing that the conflict is going to last longer than expected, the various claimants intensify their efforts to expand the forces available to them. All of the rulers except Nicholas and Maria are able to expand the tagma-theme system, with Thomas being the most successful and creating two full tagmata.

The main reason for his success is that a disproportionate number of Maria’s supporters have a disproportionate amount of their estates in his territories. He also adds a new innovation to the system by substituting businesses in engage for land. For example, if a business such as a merchant firm, leather tanning shop, blacksmith forge etc., is capable of producing an annual revenue equal to that of a skutatos estate, then one of the owners is conscripted as a skutatos. He receives the pay and equipment bonuses of a regular soldier and is responsible for following all rules and regulations. Tax exemptions granted to the owner’s business are the equivalent of the land grants made to regular tagma troops.

However both Manuel and Demetrios lack the necessary estates to create a full tagma so they create a new kind of district, a cleisurae. The district are named after an adjunct to the old theme system to guard mountain passes established by Theophilos (r. 829-842), but the old and new types are quite dissimilar. A cleisurae is a mini-theme, supporting one tourma as opposed to the ten supported by a theme. Demetrios is able to create six, Manuel four. They also, like Nicholas, create full-time corps of Athanatoi personally attached to themselves, which are two thousand strong.

Nicholas, short on the land grants that make the tagma-theme system affordable, creates independent tourmai that are full time soldiers paid in cash, but he cannot fund more than three of these and his troop count thus falls short of his rivals. His lack of Turkopouloi is compensated by recruiting more light koursores to fill the light cavalry niche.

Maria is short on funds and lands and despised by her people, who consider her a traitor and a sellout to Venice. The Venetians not only push Greek merchants out of business but continually misbehave in Constantinople. When charges are pressed by Greeks against Venetians, the case is heard in Venetian courts which universally favor the Venetian claimant. As a result, she is only kept afloat by Venetian loans and Latin mercenaries, who are usually less trained and disciplined than Thomas’ tagmata, and also antagonize the populace as well by their bad behavior.

Due to the plague epidemics of 1347-1348, 1359-60, and 1370-1371, many estates across the Empire became vacant. However since the last outbreak happened over thirty years earlier, Rhomanion’s population is recovering, although it is still only about three quarters what it was in 1346. The empty lands coupled with the minor population growth is what allows the various claimants to successfully expand the tagma-theme system and their armies, although such measures severely weaken the economy.

1407: In March a Neapolitan fleet seizes Corfu. As Thomas has no fleet, the attack goes unchallenged. However a month later a Neapolitan army lands near Avlona and is almost immediately engaged by Thomas’ light troops. The Neapolitan main camp is moved several miles inland to act as a buffer for the troops besieging the Albanian port.

After two weeks, a fierce raid is launched on the Neapolitan camp by most of Thomas’ Turkopouloi but they quickly flee, the enraged Italians giving chase. They run into a swamp, where the heavily armored Neapolitans are ambushed by the Macedonian akritoi. In such an environment, the Neapolitans stand no chance and are annihilated, with no prisoners being taken. Meanwhile Thomas’ heavy troops overrun the lightly guarded Neapolitan camp.

Thomas then dresses up many of his men in Neapolitan equipment and marches to where the Italian fleet is berthed, keeping several soldiers who speak Italian in front. The sailors, expecting the soldiers to be returning for more supplies, welcome the troops on board so they can help with the offloading. Thanks to their complete surprise, the Macedonians capture over thirty Neapolitan galleys. After dispersing the troops besieging Avlona, Thomas uses his new fleet to take back Corfu; it had been in Neapolitan hands for forty nine days. Peace is soon made, restoring the status quo.

Maria attempts to exploit Thomas’ vulnerability, ordering the Thracian tagma to invade the Macedonian theme. However she is informed that due to ‘supply difficulties’ the tagma is unable to do so. In actuality, the troops refuse to march west of the Vardar in order to support the ‘mistress of the Venetians’.

A far more damaging incident occurs in November 1407. On the tenth Maria asks the Patriarch of Constantinople, Anthony IV, to excommunicate her political enemies. Anthony remarks that it is rather odd for a Catholic monarch to ask an Orthodox cleric for spiritual assistance, but that if she were to convert to Orthodoxy he might reconsider. Maria flat out refuses, proclaiming ‘As long as I shall live, I shall never abandon the see of St. Peter, the true rock of the church and all faithful Christians,’ and then storms out of the chamber. Unfortunately for her, the patriarch had a scribe hiding behind a curtain recording the whole conversation.

The transcript hits the streets of Constantinople the next day, enraging the local populace. A mob gathers outside of the Blachernae palace chanting ‘We are the faithful’. Maria orders them to disperse but they refuse to do so. By early afternoon she has run out of patience and orders the Constantinople archontate to disperse the crowd, by force if necessary. They refuse to move. By now exceedingly annoyed, she orders her Latin mercenaries to do the job instead. When the crowd sees the Latin soldiers advancing, they start to throw roof tiles, pots, any projectiles that are handy. The Latins charge in and start cutting the mob to pieces.

The soldiers of the Constantinople archontate are watching the whole affair. Seeing their neighbors attacked and killed, they charge in as well and start attacking the Latin mercenaries. A full scale battle erupts between the Latins and the Greeks. The archontate troops are heavily outnumbered but are supported by the populace. While most are useless in battle, the members of the leather tanners’ and butchers’ guilds prove to be quite helpful. Due to their occupation they are used to blood and guts and the tools of their trade are readily adaptable for war. Still even with their support, the archontate soldiers are forced to retreat back to their barracks. The akritoi contingents prove to be quite adept at street fighting, hiding in houses and then ambushing Latin soldiers.

With the archontate largely contained, mainly of the Latin troops seize the opportunity to start looting. Over two hundred of them break into the gold and silversmiths’ district and start pillaging the shops indiscriminately for over two hours before they are driven out by a contingent of butchers and blacksmiths, the latter swinging their hammers with such force as to crack plate armor. With the assault led by a dozen akritoi the Latins are forced to pull back. While the shops were their main targets, at least three small churches were also sacked.

Maria, alarmed at the deteriorating situation, informs her troops that if any of her soldiers are caught deliberately starting fires as a battle tactic, they are to be burnt alive. The last thing she needs is more comparisons to 1203-1204. Meanwhile several members of the archontate ride out to the nearby countryside where three tourmai of the Thracian tagma are conducting maneuvers, asking them to aid them in the fight against the Latins.

Basil Palaeologus is also there and on hearing the news rushes back to the city. By nightfall the archontate barracks is under siege by the Latin mercenaries, but the one attempted attack is beaten back when the archontate troops managed to maneuver one of the bombards from the adjacent Acropolis arsenal into position and fire it down the crowded street packed with Latin soldiers.

The next morning the Latins start making preparations to bring up trebuchets from the arsenal next to the Harbor of Eleutherius to bombard the barracks. At 8 AM, Basil, Anthony, and Maria arrive at the scene. Maria wisely remains silent while Anthony is able to talk the archontate troops down while Basil calms the Latins, although he has to promise that they will be allowed to keep all the loot they gained. Through their diplomatic skills, the incident is over by 9 AM with the Latins abandoning their artillery preparations. The affair, dubbed the Patriarch Incident for how it started, killed seventy archontate troops, three hundred Latin mercenaries, at least half of which were killed in that one bombard blast, and seventeen hundred Constantinople civilians. Fortunately for everyone involved, no serious fires were started.

Meanwhile in Anatolia Manuel continues to remain largely on the defensive in the west, but in Timurid Armenia, raid after raid sweep over the countryside. With the active support of the locals, Timurid contingents are only safe outside of fortified cities if they travel in columns one thousand strong or more. Anything smaller is always attacked and usually annihilated. Because of these raids, Manuel has the complete and utter support of the populace of the eastern themes. Concerned about the loyalty of the Anatolic troops, Demetrios assigns them to guard his Aegean coast against Venetian raids.

In 1407 both Mikhail, King of Novgorod, and Gvidas, Grand Duke of Lithuania, die within three months of each other. Novgorod and Lithuania are united under Boris Shuisky, who is formally proclaimed King of Novgorod-Lithuania in May. He promises to respect the rights and traditions of the Lithuanian aristocracy and people and Lithuania formally converts to Orthodox Christianity, although a sizeable portion of the population had already converted in the last several decades. He receives congratulations and gifts from Thomas Laskaris, Demetrios Komnenos, and Manuel Doukas.

1408: A combined Polish-Teutonic army invades Lithuania, determined to break the union. They are allowed to penetrate Lithuanian territory while Boris brings up Novgorodian units to bolster the Lithuanian army, then attacks them on July 23 near the town of Sejny. Attacking at first light he achieves absolute surprise and absolute victory. The Teutonic contingents suffer the most casualties and largely disintegrate in the ensuing rout.

Manuel Doukas’ territories are ravaged by the first recurrence of the Black Death in almost forty years. While his troops, living in well sanitized camps and provided with the best food available, suffer very little from the disease, the various towns in his domain are not so lucky. At least ten percent of the population of Antioch, Aleppo, and Edessa perish. Trebizond continues its trend of being fortunate in regard to the plague, only losing four percent, largely due to draconian quarantine measures.

Both Thomas Laskaris and Demetrios Komnenos launch their long awaited offensives in March. Thomas’ army takes Corinth after just two days, the local Greeks opening the gates and expelling the Latin garrison as soon as they get the chance. It takes less than two months for him to secure the whole of the Peloponnese due to the overwhelming support of the local populace. He attacked south first because he did not want a second front in his rear when he marches on Constantinople and because he is now finally able to establish land grants for the remainder of the Hellas theme. The Genoese of Modon and Coron also back him, providing him with intelligence on troop movements in the Morea.

In Opsicia at the battle of Cyzicus, Demetrios and his army of thirty thousand wins an overwhelming victory over Nicholas Laskaris and his force of twenty two thousand. Nicholas falls back to Nicaea, where he dies under mysterious circumstances on June 9. With their leader dead with no male heir (Nicholas had four daughters), Demetrios is able to convince his troops to join his cause after promising not to take away any of their positions or possessions. Their newfound loyalty is soon tested when Manuel invades Bithynia and tries to convince the Optimates tagma and the professional tourmai to defect to him, emphasizing the fact that he has been fighting Timurids while Demetrios has been fighting fellow Romans.

However Manuel’s main weakness, his utter lack of any blood claim to the throne, convinces the troops to side with Demetrios. Manuel is defeated at Klaudiopolis but his losses are not heavy and he retreats in good order. Deciding that he needs to do something drastic to gain the loyalty of the western troops, he launches a full scale invasion of Timurid Armenia. In September the Coloneia tagma seizes Theodosiopolis, slaughtering its Timurid garrison. Sometime during the siege the Black Death spills into Demetrios’ territories, again largely ignoring his troops in their encampments and striking the cities.

The Corsican war between Genoa and Aragon-Sicily ends in a draw with the signing of the treaty of Lucca on December 4. While Aragon-Sicily was the stronger state, its war effort was handicapped by the need to keep sizeable forces at home to forestall a Marinid attack. The main benefactor is the Duchy of Milan, which had two of its three north Italian rivals, Genoa and Venice, distracted by overseas affairs. Thus Milan has between 1404-1408 managed to annex Brescia, Mantua, Modena, and Montferrat, decisively defeating its Florentine rival at the Battle at Fornuovo in June 1408.

1409: The war in Anatolia is reduced to two claimants, Demetrios and Manuel. Demetrios controls more territory and the richest parts of Anatolia, but Manuel has control of Antioch and Trebizond, two of the termini for the Silk Road, so he gains vast amounts of revenue from customs duties. Both the Timurids and Manuel do their best to avoid harassing merchants as they both benefit from the tolls they can levy on the traders.

The Anatolian war in 1409 consists entirely of small-scale raids and skirmishes, with no battles numbering more than five hundred combatants total. Both sides, battered by the plague epidemic, spend the year rebuilding their strength. Demetrios controls four of the pre-Caesarea tagmata, the six cleisurai, a corps of Athanatoi that numbers five thousand (he combined his and Nicholas’ and then added one of the full-time tourmai), plus one full-time tourma, for a on-paper total of fifty two thousand troops, not including the fleet.

Manuel controls three pre-Caesarea tagmata, a corps of Athanatoi that by 1409 also numbers five thousand, the four cleisurai, the Antioch archontate, three full-time tourmai, and eight banda, although the later were hit hard by Timur’s invasion, for a total of over forty four thousand troops. Demetrios’ numerical advantage is not decisive as he is forced to station a significant number of soldiers along his western seaboard as Venetian squadrons periodically attempt to raid his shores.

Thomas Laskaris gains a significant victory when he captures Thessalonica in May, advancing his eastern border to the Strymon by July. The resistance of the Thracian tagma is reluctant at best. Before they had been willing to fight for their estates; now if they are threatened the soldiers prefer to defect. Thomas is only forced to stop there because he has to deal with a major Serbian raid, which he crushes and then advances into Serbia proper. He sacks Nis in September with the use of six cannons, giving Thomas a profound fondness for the weapons. He uses the spoils to help establish a full-time tourma, bringing his total to three ‘free’ tourmai. His corps of Athanatoi also numbers five thousand strong by this point. When those formations are combined with his three tagmata, he fields thirty eight thousand soldiers.

However due to the lack of men with the requisite training, post-Caesarea European formations have significantly weaker or nonexistent Skythikoi and Turkopouloi contingents compared to pre-Caesarea units or post-Caesarea Anatolian units. The resulting holes are filled up by increased numbers of other troop types, so the post-Caesarea formations are still numerically equal.

However post-Caesarea formations in both Europe and Asia are not as well trained and disciplined as the pre-Caesarea units. The former do not have the regular tagma and tourma reviews to keep them in shape. While the battlefield does give them experience, she also has the annoying habit of killing her students. The repeated skirmishes are used by the various claimants as opportunities to train their soldiers in lieu of the reviews, while minimizing the risk of killing the trainees in the process.

Meanwhile Manuel continues driving deeper into Armenia. Here on the periphery of his empire, Timur’s authority has never been very strong and his subjects never very loyal. The small and scattered Timurid garrison forces, battered by years of Manuel’s raids, are unable to put much resistance. In July Manuel symbolically washes his sword in Lake Van, having regained the territories lost by the Empire to the Ottomans in the 1380s. At Mount Ararat on August 2 he destroys the last effective Timurid force in Armenia. Throughout all this there have been a series of raids between Timurid and Roman Syria, but no major offensives. Manuel is focused on Armenia and Anatolia, while the governors of Timurid Syria are wary of launching an invasion as it would leave them open to a Mameluke attack.

In Europe, Thomas signs a treaty with Genoa in December, whereby he promises to expel the Venetians from the Empire in exchange for Genoese naval support in doing so. All along the coast of Greece, ships are constructed as Thomas begins assembling his own fleet to bolster his captured Neapolitan flotilla. When Maria catches word of this, she decides to launch a preemptive strike. However instead of using the Venetian squadrons she decides to use her remaining Greek vessels in order to show that she still thinks of the Greeks. The sailors are not impressed and when they arrive off the coast of Thessaly they unanimously defect to Thomas. Maria now has no navy whatsoever except for what the Venetians provide.

Also in December Thomas makes contact with Demetrios. While they both want to become Emperor, they equally don’t want the Venetians to rule the Empire, which will happen if Maria remains in charge. Her only form of support that is still native to the Empire is the Thracian tagma, which is loyal only because its commander Basil Palaeologus is Maria’s lover. On December 30, he is found dead in his winter home in Constantinople, his throat slit.

1410: The new commander of the Thracian tagma is Michael Sphrantzes, a happily married man with three children. Maria’s advances are met with contempt but he does not betray her while Thomas begins his invasion of Thrace at the same time as the Genoese armada enters the Aegean. Off Monemvasia the Genoese and Venetian fleets clash, the former supported by fifteen galleys from Thomas’ new fleet. The battle lasts all afternoon, ending in a Genoese victory although the Venetians suffer fewer losses.

Thomas’ forces face little resistance and are joyfully welcomed by the Thracians. On April 1 he is challenged by the assembled might of Maria west of Adrianople; at the heart of her army is the Thracian tagma. In the morning the heart defects to Thomas, a feat that Thomas had been planning for four months. With that defection, the demoralized foreign mercenaries, about sixteen thousand strong, are easily destroyed in an hour long battle. Over ten thousand are taken captive, but since they are mercenaries there is no foreign government willing to ransom them while Maria’s time is just about up. The officers are all executed with the rank and file kept alive only to be sold to Sarai as slaves two months later.

On April 20, Thomas’ army, including the Thracian tagma, invest Constantinople. The Genoese-Thomasine fleet is too large for the Venetian squadrons stationed there, who remain berthed in the Golden Horn. The siege lasts only three days before some of the garrison open the gates and let Thomas in. He can afford to be generous. The Venetians are allowed to leave with their families and with whatever possessions they can fit on their ships, although all their remaining property is forfeit.

The Genoese receive Galata as a trading quarter but only after Thomas demolishes the fortifications. While they do not have to pay rent for their new quarter, Thomas makes it clear that they still have to pay a two percent custom duties, pay rent for Modon and Coron, and that cases between a Greek and a Genoese will be tried in a Greek court (cases between two Genoese are tried in Genoese courts).

John V Laskaris, now almost eight years old, is tonsured, castrated, and sent to a monastery in southern Epirus. Thomas has no desire to kill the boy and figures that keeping the real one alive will help prevent any pretenders from arising. Lady Maria of Barcelona, former Empress of the Romans, is treated with all the respect due to her rank and is returned to her brother King Jaime V. With her Thomas sends a treaty reducing the custom duties for Catalan merchants from the usual ten percent to eight percent. The reduction only applies so long as Maria does not attempt to return. The gesture, while making sure that the Catalan merchants will likely oppose any attempt by Maria to regain her title, is largely token since Catalan merchants rarely operate east of Messina. Thomas drops his former imperial title but waits to be crowned Emperor of the Romans until June 3, the anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to Nicene forces in 1272.

Both Demetrios and Manuel declare Thomas an usurper but they are more concentrated on fighting each other. Demetrios, with his back free after the Venetian expulsion, launches an invasion of Cilicia but faces fierce resistance from the local Armenians, who are fanatically devoted to Manuel who is half Armenian from his mother. As a result progress is torturously slow.

Novgorod-Lithuania’s war with the Teutons and Poles ends with the Treaty of Riga in November. Poland, whose forces are still largely intact, merely cedes a few minor border fortresses to Lithuania. However the Teutonic Order, despised by all the peoples of Novgorod-Lithuania and without any field army worth mentioning, is not so lucky. Memel and Dunaburg are ceded to Lithuania, while Novgorod acquires Estonia as well as Ludsen and Dorpat.

The Sultanate of Adal, recently established in 1399, launches an invasion of Ethiopia under the command of the charismatic Imam Ali ibn Iskander al-Ghazi. Born in 1379 in Agra, part of the Delhi sultanate, as the second son of Turkish immigrants, his mother was killed in 1386 when the Hindu Bihari sacked the city. A fervent supporter of the jihad, he leaves the Delhi sultanate in disgust in 1405 after the overwhelming Vijayanagara victory over a Delhian army at the Battle of Ujjain. He makes his way to Adal, where his military skills quickly become apparent.

At Shimbra Kure, al-Ghazi defeats an Ethiopian army that outnumbers his 3 to 2, but suffers heavy casualties. Still the victory encourages him and his men, although some are disheartened by the last words of the captured Ethiopian general Mikael of Dessie, who says that they have brought the wrath of Allah down upon the Dar al-Islam for attacking a state that sheltered Islam in its infancy.

In Samarkand the seventy two year old Timur has been busy consolidating his control over Persia and Central Asia, which is why he has paid little attention to his distant and comparatively unimportant western provinces. He has also been occupied in launching raids against the Delhi Sultanate on his southeastern border as well as preparing for an invasion of China. But the fall of an entire province is a provocation he cannot afford to ignore. The past several months he has spent gradually disentangling himself from the Indian and Chinese theaters. In October both Demetrios and Manuel hear the news through their spy networks: He is coming.

1411: In January Demetrios and Manuel meet at the old battlefield of Cappadocian Caesarea, at which they had both served. They are both accompanied by their Athanatoi contingents and their ‘home’ tagmata, the Thracesian for Demetrios and the Coloneian for Manuel. Combat operations between the two had ceased as soon as they heard the news about Timur’s advance, with the conference arranged via emissaries who met at Zephyrium in Cilicia in late November.

Both have grave concerns, besides the obvious. With the news of Timur’s approach becoming common knowledge in Anatolia, Demetrios is growing increasingly unsure of the loyalty of his troops, particularly the Anatolic tagma, who are favoring Manuel, the one claimant who has actively been opposing the warlord’s forces. Demetrios himself is also eager to strike a blow against Timur, the murderer of his uncle and the closest thing he had to a father.

Meanwhile Manuel, who turned fifty nine last December, is growing increasingly weary of fighting. And even if he does become Emperor of the Romans, he is worried about the succession. His healer son George has absolutely no desire to become Emperor, while he feels that his other son Michael lacks the requisite patience and wisdom to make a good ruler. He has also been growing increasingly estranged with Michael since the failed invasion of the Anatolic theme in 1405. Michael had attributed his lack of success to the supposed cowardice of his soldiers, rather than his utter failure to conduct a proper reconnaissance. Also Manuel knows that in Timur’s present mood, the suffering that he will inflict on the people of eastern Anatolia will be absolutely terrible.

Thus both are adamant that Timur cannot be allowed to enter Anatolia again. As a result, over a period of twelve days, the two claimants come to a comprehensive agreement designed to present an united Roman Anatolian front to Timur. Manuel agrees to recognize Demetrios as rightful ruler of the Romans with the succession to pass down his line, but Manuel is recognized as co-emperor. Also Demetrios’ son Theodoros, almost three years old, is betrothed to Manuel’s granddaughter Helena and the daughter of his son George. She is almost two. The wedding is to take place once Helena turns fifteen. At the end of the summit, the two revive an old Roman tradition. Both are raised on their shields, Demetrios by Manuel’s men and Manuel by Demetrios’ and publicly proclaimed by both armies as Emperors of Smyrna and Trebizond.

George, with his father’s permission, becomes archiatros of Demetrios’ Athanatoi formation and Demetrios’ personal physician. The two men soon become good friends. However Michael Doukas is irate over the agreement as it ruins his chances of ever attaining the throne. With the specter of Timur looming over the Empire, he keeps him mouth shut for now.

Demetrios’ troops are overjoyed at the conference’s result. Their candidate is recognized as the senior emperor and they get to finally strike a blow against the Timurids instead of against fellow Romans. Manuel’s troops are not so enthused, but Manuel convinces them to accept the agreement, saying to them that ‘as Romans, our responsibility is not to any one man, but to the Empire itself.’

Manuel marches east after the conference, pouring supplies and men into Theodosiopolis while the fortifications are strengthened. Part of the improvements are four bombards forged in Smyrna, a gift from Demetrios. As soon as Timur’s host, ninety thousand strong, enters Roman Armenia in late February, it is immediately engaged by Manuel’s skirmishers. As they have had many years of practice in the art over the course of the Anatolian civil war, they are very successful with the akritoi proving to be extremely deadly in ambushing horse archers in the foothills.

Also since the conference an intense propaganda effort has been waged to convince the common people to accept the Caesarean agreement. Alongside Manuel’s appellation of ‘Guardian of the Empire’ is placed Demetrios’ conduct at the Battle of Caesarea, where his seventh of the Roman army was responsible for one fourth of the Timurid casualties. The argument of the heralds is that together the two emperors can defeat the great Timur himself and then rule far better than those mismanaging warmongering Laskarids. John Pachymeres, Demetrios’ court historian, publishes the first book of his history, covering the reign of Konstantinos XI Laskaris, where the role of George Komnenos in the wars of his reign is heavily minimized.

Meanwhile Timur had been counseled to invade Anatolia by way of Syria and Cilicia, avoiding mountainous Armenia where Roman infantry would have the advantage. However he rejected that advice. He is concerned that a Timurid army in Syria might provoke a Mameluke response; the Egyptians have been increasingly difficult in regards to the tribute payments required of them in the Treaty of Jerusalem. Also an advance through Syria would make it very easy for Osman II to cut Timur’s supply lines, while a direct assault on Armenia would not present the same vulnerability.

Timur is also eager to get the campaign over with as quickly as possible. His leg wound from the assassination attempt in 1403 has never fully healed, and his old age and the rigors of the march only aggravate the pain, as well as his health. Timur’s poor condition is why it took him almost five months to travel from Samarkand to Armenia.

The initial thrust into Armenia is not opposed except with skirmishers and scorched earth tactics. Manuel deliberately allows himself to be bottled up along with his heavy troops in Theodosiopolis, which is invested on March 28. Timur cannot allow such a powerful fortress to remain unconquered in his rear. Well fortified and supplied, Manuel repulses three furious attempts to storm the city with the bombards plus twenty five trebuchets proving very effective at smashing up the Timurid siege artillery. Meanwhile clouds of light Roman troops hang around the engagement, vigorously attacking foragers. On April 7 they even stage a small raid into one of the smaller Timurid camps, starting a fire which ends up killing over two hundred Timurid soldiers.


Manuel Doukas, Guardian of the Empire, 1479. Painted showing the war leader, beloved amongst the people of eastern Anatolia, atop the ramparts of Theodosiopolis, one historical error is the color of his beard, which was completely white at the time.​

Since the Caesarea conference, Demetrios has been gathering his forces, setting up supply depots to the west of Theodosiopolis, and vigorously training his troops in how to counter Timur’s tactics. In May he begins maneuvering to cut off Timur’s supply lines. With foraging proving to be extremely difficult, the heavily guarded supply caravans coming from Persia are Timur’s only reliable source of provisions. With Demetrios maneuvering to intercept those caravans, along with the continual attacks of the light troops and Theodosiopolis’ defiant resistance, Timur is forced to abandon the siege on May 20.

His retreat allows Demetrios’ army to link up with Manuel’s troops. The supply depots stationed to the rear are what allows the combined Smyrnan-Trebizondian force of some seventy five thousand men to pursue Timur’s army without having to disperse and give Timur the opportunity to defeat them in detail. Since Demetrios is the senior Emperor, he is the commander of the combined army with Manuel as his second. Timur is unaccustomed to retreating in the face of the enemy so once his supply lines are secure on May 27 he turns and challenges the Anatolian army at a field infamous in Roman history: Manzikert.

With both armies well provisioned, neither side is willing to launch a major attack on the first day, which is spent entirely on skirmishing with honors about even. While the Roman light troops are experts at this business, their continuous campaigning for the last three months has taken a serious toll on their strength. They are not the only ones to have suffered serious loss. By this point Timur’s army is down to about eighty thousand effectives.

Since their primary objective is to keep Timur out of the Empire, Demetrios and Manuel resolve to fight defensively. So long as their army remains undefeated in the field, Anatolia is safe. Neither emperor is willing to gamble that in an attempt to take the battle to Timur’s larger army. However if the opportunity presents itself, that strategy may change.

On the second day, Timur attempts to break Demetrios’ left flank with a well coordinated combined infantry-cavalry attack. Due to his minute numerical superiority, the layout of the terrain, and his experience at Caesarea, Timur does not attempt an outright flanking maneuver, preferring a mass assault on the periphery in an attempt to shatter it and roll up the whole Roman line. Demonstrations by Timurid skirmishers are conducted along the rest of the line to prevent Roman reserves from being rushed to the left. The brunt of the attack is deliberately aimed at the Opsician tagma, which had suffered the most from Timur’s wrath at Caesarea.

The two armies grind against each other, soldiers smashing at each other from ramparts of their own dead. About an hour after the initial attack, a troop surge allows the Timurids to break through in three places. Prying at the gaps, pushing them back, hundreds, thousands of soldiers spill out behind the Roman lines, immediately turning to start the process of crumpling the Roman army. Cries of victory sound out from the Timurid ranks, making it only halfway out before choking on the sight before them.

A small stream of Roman soldiers, a thin silver line, stands in front of them, completely silent. One lone trumpet blast calls out; it is all these soldiers need. A shiver runs along the Roman reserve line as the lances of the kataphraktoi shift from the vertical to the horizontal and two thousand of the Empire’s finest, their armor ablaze in the light of the noontime sun, leap to the attack. The thunder of their charge roars across the battlefield, the hooves of their great war horses smashing at the earth, a steady drumbeat of death; their blinding specters is the last thing the Timurid vanguard sees.

Manuel leads the kataphraktoi charge on the largest Timurid breakthrough and is said to have personally killed Pir Mohammed, Timur’s favorite son. He had been leading the general assault and had gone to the front to embolden his men, causing them to make the breakthrough in the first place.

At the same time Demetrios personally rallies the soldiers of the main battle line, who gain inspiration when they see three arrows bounce off his plate cuirass, while Michael of Abydos leads acounterattack composed of both Demetrios’ and Manuel’s Athanatoi contingents. Due to the stalling of the initial advance, Timur had committed some of his reserves, reducing the threat to the rest of the Anatolian army and allowing the Emperors to draw on their main reserve. Michael’s thrust, with the sun at its back dazzling the eyes of the Timurid soldiery, savages the right flank of Timur’s assault, causing it to retreat. Once the attack has slackened the soldiers spontaneously begin cheering their Emperors. Both Demetrios and Manuel look on in joy; their two armies are becoming one.

Still Demetrios’ left wing is severely battered and he is forced to pull reserves from the center to secure it, making sure it is covered by a thick cloud of skirmishers. On May 29, Timur decides to copy his winning tactic at Caesarea and launch a mass assault on the weakened center. He is eager to get the battle over with as the pain from his leg has become so debilitating that he cannot mount a horse. Assembling his best armored Persian troops, both cavalry and infantry, the attack is launched at 9 AM.


A modern rendition of The Dragon and his Knights (for a video game called The Five Emperors) by Gottfried Liss, painted in 1499. While Latin-Roman relations in the fifteenth century were almost entirely bad, the exploits of Dragos cel Mare, particularly with Roman kataphraktoi, soon became famous in the west, where he was known simply as the Dragon.​

When Timur launches his attack, his best Khorasani infantry are in the vanguard swinging their four-flanged steel maces, specifically designed to smash apart opposing heavy infantry such as the skutatoi. With those deadly infantry supported by lancers, both mounted and dismounted, from Esfahan and Fars, who are just as well equipped as many of the kataphraktoi, the thin Roman line begins to crack. That it does not break is due to Demetrios’ personal intervention there rallying his men.

Meanwhile the mounted Persian lancers, organized into squadrons of twenty men, repeatedly charge the Roman lines. They focus on gaps in the skutatoi spear hedge ripped open by the Timurid heavy infantry, always making sure to disengage before they can be bogged down. To counter this threat, the akritoi are thrown into melee, their cleavers slashing at the unprotected hamstrings of the Persian horses. The screams of crippled horses echo across the field, along the cries of crippled men. While it does slow the Timurid advance, it is not enough to halt it.

Meanwhile the toxotai shower arrows onto the Timurid ranks, lofting them over the Roman line and darkening the sky with their sheets of missiles. Even with that support the Roman defenses begin to leak, with Timurid companies spilling out through the gaps. Every one that makes it through is immediately charged and flattened by reserve squadrons of kataphraktoi and heavy koursores.

In an effort to stiffen his lines, Demetrios orders one half of the kataphraktoi to dismount and support the infantry. While they are not used to fighting on their feet, the sudden influx of fresh, heavily armored, mace wielding soldiers is enough to stall the Timurid advance. Also the skythikoi advance to point blank range just behind the line, snapping volleys of composite arrows that slash through the air just a few feet above the heads of the Roman infantry, stabbing into the eyes of the Timurid soldiery.

Sensing that the attack’s momentum is failing, Timur throws in his reserves. With those engaged, not even the kataphraktoi can hold the line, and the center is slowly and stubbornly forced to bend backwards. More and more spills occur, the reserve cavalry squadrons barely able to keep up with the breakthroughs. Some of the Timurid soldiers begin to notice something odd further to the Roman rear, but do not live long enough to express their misgivings.

Out of the troops Demetrios had pulled from his center, only a quarter went to the left wing. The remainder went into a massive reserve. The Emperors had transferred men to the left, but most of them had been cooks, doctors, and baggage handlers dressed to look like real soldiers from a distance. The thick cloud of Turkopouloi around the left wing was to protect the subterfuge.

Manuel is in command of the extra-large Roman reserve and once the Timurid ones are irrevocably committed, he launches his attack. Slamming into the flanks of the Timurid assault, which had by that point created a large bulge in the Roman center, while some of the reserves reinforce Demetrios, the morale of the tired Timurid soldiers immediately starts to crack. After a short action where the Timurids are forced to defend themselves against attacks on three sides simultaneously, they begin to break. Manuel takes care to leave an escape route open so that the Timurids are not cornered but they are still slaughtered as they run the gauntlet.

Timur throws his skirmishers, all he has left, into the battle but they are lashed by concentrated missile volleys from the skythikoi and are forced to retreat. However one formation presses the attack too closely, allowing Dragos cel Mare to wheel around four kataphraktoi drungi and trap over eleven hundred Chagatai horse archers between them and the skythikoi. Only two hundred and seventy manage to make it out alive. By noon Timur has lost almost thirty thousand men.

At 2 PM the Anatolian army begins a general advance, sweeping aside the few light troops that attempt to oppose it. With the core of his army shattered and his elite troops annihilated, Timur has no choice but to sue for peace. At 3 PM Demetrios, Manuel, and Timur meet, although Timur has to be carried there in a litter. Since Demetrios and Manuel are eager to turn towards Constantinople, their terms are light. Timur must cede all claims to any territories lost to the Romans prior to his second invasion and swear never to attack the Empire again. He also has to make a lump payment equivalent to seventy thousand hyperpyra, but does not have to pay any ransoms for his prisoners, which are returned to him along with the body of Pir Mohammed. Timur has no Roman prisoners to return though; they had all been executed.

The total Anatolian casualties for the Battle of Manzikert comes to slightly more than twenty two thousand men. Timur loses forty one thousand. Bitter and dejected after his first defeat in over forty years, Timur withdraws from the Empire but only makes it as far as Ardabil in northwest Persia before he receives word that both the Mamelukes and Ottomans have launched general offensives into Syria and Mesopotamia respectively. There had been several Turkish and Syrian soldiers serving in Timur’s army that had deserted in the chaotic afternoon of May 29 and had galloped south, bringing news of the warlord’s great defeat. That both states are able to attack so quickly after his demise makes it clear that they had already been planning the operations for some time, likely since they learned of Timur’s second invasion of the Empire.

Despite the fact that his army is severely under-strength, Timur lurches his way south as far as Zanjan, where he is forced to stop when he catches a strong fever. Calling for his son Pir Mohammed, he dies on June 29. That son had been Timur’s preferred and most competent successor, which is why Timur had made sure he had stayed with the army, so that the soldiers would already be used to obeying him before the warlord died. Due to the short interval between the deaths of father and son, Timur was unable to make any arrangements for a new heir.

As a result, civil war breaks out between Timur’s remaining children and grandchildren, whose power bases are located in central Asia and eastern Persia. Elsewhere Timurid governors and local elites displaced by Timur attempt to establish their own states, viciously clashing with one another. The most prominent of these attempts is the mass revolt of the Jalayirids in Fars, Khuzestan, and Esfahan. Meanwhile the Mamelukes and Ottomans relentlessly drive north in an attempt to regain their lost territories. Osman II enters Baghdad in triumph two months after Timur’s death.

To the north, both Georgia and the Qara Koyunlu invade Azerbaijan, but soon start fighting each other instead. The reason why is that the Qara Koyunlu had controlled the region before Timur and seek to liberate and reunite with the conquered members of their confederation, while the Georgians are simply out for conquest. In the ensuing battles, Roman influence on the Georgian army quickly becomes apparent, particularly in the use of Georgian light infantry to counter the enemy’s light cavalry.

The Anatolian army returns to the west, but in late June Michael Doukas revolts, proclaiming himself as the rightful Roman Emperor. Setting himself up in Trebizond, he crowns himself Emperor of Trebizond. It is this last action that causes Manuel to explode with rage as it is a usurpation of part of his title. Unfortunately for Michael the main Anatolian force is firmly behind Demetrios and Manuel after Manzikert, so he only has the half-hearted support of one ‘free’ tourma and the Trebizond garrison.

On July 24, Trebizond is invested but the Anatolian army makes no attempt to storm the besiegers while the garrison makes no attempt at sallies. Manuel implores his son to see reason but Michael calls him ‘a spineless coward, who forsook his chance at the Imperial throne to play lieutenant to a man half his age.’ Manuel responds in kind, calling Michael ‘a bloodthirsty Latin, who delights only in slaughter and power.’

On August 20 Trebizond surrenders under a promise of amnesty, with Michael being delivered to the Emperors by his own courtiers. They both agree on what must be done. Michael is castrated, tonsured, and exiled to the new monastery of St. Theodoros Megas, founded on the site of the Battle of Manzikert. For the rest of the year, Demetrios and Manuel work to establish an administrative and military structure for the province of Armenia, transferring two cleisurai there from their estates in Anatolia.

Thomas is kept aware of the developments in Anatolia by his spies but is unable to intervene because he is occupied by a naval war with Venice. While still at war with Demetrios, the Venetians concentrate their efforts on Thomas, defeating a squadron of his off of Mount Athos and a Genoese fleet near Skyros. Thomas’ main disadvantage is his lack of trained, experienced sailors and marines since the bulk of the former imperial fleet is in Demetrios’ hands, who makes sure his fleet stays out of the way of the combatants.

In June another Genoese squadron is defeated at Amorgos, causing Thomas to decide that he needs to come to terms so he can intervene in Anatolia. First he succeeds in landing 3,000 troops on Imbros under the cover of night and then offers Venice terms. They will receive their old quarter back without having to pay any rent for it and will be allowed to keep their Aegean possessions, provided they pay a rent of 25,000 hyperpyra, resume payments of the rent for Crete (they are not required to make back payments) and Venetian merchants will have to pay a four percent customs duty.

Venice initially refuses the offers, but when Imbros falls and Thomas succeeds in landing a force on Lemnos after using his fleet to make a feint on Euboea, Venice accepts after managing to negotiate the Aegean rent down to 20,000 hyperpyra, figuring that with a foot in the door it can be widened later. The Venetians also do not want to give the Genoese time to secure a monopoly in the Black Sea trade. Genoa immediately protests to Thomas, stating truthfully that the agreement is in violation of their treaty. Thomas responds that if Genoa wanted to keep Venice out of the Aegean, perhaps they should have done a better job fighting them.

During the autumn, a famine sweeps across all the Empire, caused by a form of grain blight that damages the crop yield of harvests. Both Thomas and Demetrios make arrangements to ship grain from the Ukraine which is not affected, and form a gentlemen’s agreement not to attack the convoys, since neither want their future subjects to starve. Both scrupulously keep to the arrangement to avoid giving the other the major propaganda point of portraying their opponent as a ruler who would let their people starve for personal advantage.

Far to the south al-Ghazi attempts to break into the Ethiopian highlands but is bloodily repulsed at Antukyah. Another attempt at Wondo Genet also fails with heavy Adalese casualties. He attempts to encourage his men, but all they can think of is Mikael’s last words before being beheaded by al-Ghazi’s hand.

In central Europe the Hungarian-Bavarian war ends in a Hungarian defeat, although all Andrew loses is his pride and his claim to the Imperial title. Ironically, his attempt to seize said title solidified the Bavarian hold on it. In 1409, Otto IV was killed in the Battle of Klosterneuberg. The electors, determined to maintain a strong front against the Hungarians, immediately proclaimed Otto V of Bavaria Holy Roman Emperor. Also the dwindling state of Austria, devastated by the war, is pushed further into Bavaria’s orbit. However Hungary’s ally Saxony in the course of the war became the premier power in northern Germany, overrunning and annexing the Duchy of Brandenburg. Saxony’s retention of the duchy is a condition of the treaty of Salzburg that ends the war.

1412: Technically England and France have been at war since the late 1370s, although for most of that time it has been a sitting war interspersed by the occasional inconsequential skirmish. Neither side has been willing to make peace due to various grievances, but were equally unwilling to escalate the conflict due to parsimony on the part of the English and demoralization on the part of the French.

However the accession of Francis I to the throne of France in 1405 changed that. He was not willing to stand by while Edward VI, king of England, usurped his title and occasionally raided his land. So Francis escalated the conflict back to a hot war. Since then the English had been holding their own in Normandy, but have been losing ground in Aquitaine, with Toulouse falling in 1409 and the outskirts of Bordeaux frequently raided. With English Aquitaine reduced to a coastal strip, the French have decided to crush English Normandy, assembling a great host that challenges the English royal army, commanded by Edward himself near Alencon on June 5. The English army is outnumbered almost three to one.

Since the French have not fought a major field battle against an English army for almost fifty years, the French knights have largely forgotten the lessons of Calais and Toulouse. While the French host contains several crossbow regiments, the French do not bring them up but immediately charge the English lines, which have been given a makeshift fortification of a small earthen embankment and a row of stakes, both constructed during the night. Slowed by these obstacles, the French men-at-arms, both mounted and dismounted, are mowed down by longbowmen, but their heavy armor and sheer numbers make melee inevitable.

During the last charge, two French knights break through to attack Edward himself. He dodges the lance of the first, braining the knight with his mace as he charges past. The second is dispatched by his guards. During the charge the English archers run out of arrows and charge into melee swinging iron mallets. Exhausted by the stubborn resistance of the dismounted English knights, the French break and run.

Many of the French survivors stagger into the town of Alencon, but their morale and that of the locals is very low. Thus it only takes six days of barrages from English bombards, brought up from the recently finished English castle at Flers, to convince the town to surrender.

This battle galvanizes English support for the war. However the main effect occurs further east, in Burgundy. The duchy has over the last thirty years chafed under the rule of weak French kings and has been growing increasingly insubordinate. When Francis declares the absorption of Burgundy into the French crown in order to gain increased control over Burgundian manpower and resources to make up for the losses at Alencon, it is the last straw. Louis II, Duke of Burgundy, repudiates his ties of loyalty to the French crown, establishing Burgundy as an independent state. He reportedly uses the grant that was to give him some estates in Provence as compensation for loss of his ducal title as toilet paper. By December he formally enters the Ninety Years War as an English ally.

Naval battles begin occurring between Thomas’ and Demetrios’ fleets, with the Anatolian fleet consistently emerging victorious. Despite numerical parity, Thomas’ fleet still has the disadvantage of fewer trained sailors and marines. Demetrios steadily begins picking off Thomas’ Aegean islands, which transferred to his control after the fall of Constantinople, one by one. Demetrios deliberately advances slowly to ease the strain on ships and men.

Meanwhile Demetrios and Manuel continue to solidify their joint control of Anatolia, slowly rebuilding their armies in preparation for the final confrontation. Their main problem is lack of manpower. Many of the soldiers were new recruits who had joined in the last decade at a young age and had not raised a family yet because they were busy campaigning in the civil war. Thus there are not many military sons that can assume their fathers’ duties. To quickly fill the massive holes in their formations caused by the battle of Manzikert, the Emperors would have to take regular civilians and convert them into soldiers, but since civilians pay the land tax while tagma and cleisurai troops do not, that would damage their treasury. Manuel’s advice, which is the system that is followed, is to replenish the tagmata with military heirs as they become available, while relying on the fleet to forestall a Thomasine invasion.

1413: Thomas is desperate to invade Anatolia for he knows that with each passing month, his chances of conquering it grow smaller. Even with all of Europe, he cannot challenge an united Anatolia at full strength, but he can take on Anatolia in its post-Manzikert weakness. However he cannot invade until he has naval superiority over Demetrios’ fleet. But out of the six battles that take place in the Aegean between the two, Thomas has only won one. Starting in March Demetrios begins using his fleet more aggressively, gobbling up the Aegean islands under Thomas’ control at a faster rate and even sending raiding parties ashore in Greece. Thomas retaliates by sending raiding parties of his own onto Bithynian soil, where he attempts to stir up disloyalty amongst the troops stationed there. He is unsuccessful. Throughout it all, both sides scrupulously keep to their promise not to attack the continuing grain convoys.

The month of May is a tragic one for Thomas. On the 11th the Smyrnan fleet takes Tenedos, with which Demetrios is able to control all ship movement in and out of the Aegean end of the Hellespont. He receives the news three days before his third child and only son Andronikos, who is seventeen, dies of smallpox in Constantinople.

Frustrated and bitter, Thomas swallows his pride and makes a treaty with Venice. In exchange for the Serene Republic providing fifty galleys at their expense for the invasion of Anatolia, Venice is to receive rent-free quarters in Smyrna, Antioch, and Trebizond, its rent for the Aegean islands reduced to 16,000 hyperpyra, and its duties reduced back to two percent.

The treaty is extremely unpopular with Thomas’ troops and subjects, but he is still vastly more popular than Maria ever was, even after he establishes four cleisurai in the western reaches of the Thracian theme. Demetrios is outraged at the news of this, calling Thomas ‘a new Latin Emperor, a new lapdog of Venice,’ to his troops. Still Thomas has reason to be optimistic as the combined Venetian-Thomasine fleet defeats a Smyrnan flotilla off Tenedos and retakes the island in October. With that feat, the way is now clear for him to begin an invasion of Anatolia. He spends the winter relentlessly drilling his men, negotiating treaties with Serbia and Bulgaria to secure his rear, and gathering supplies, particularly powder and shot.

Also in order to compensate for his smaller armies, he has overseen a massive expansion of his artillery train, more than quadrupling the number of cannons amongst its ranks. The process had begun as soon as he took Constantinople. Ever since the siege of Nis Thomas has been most fond of the weapons, which allowed him to take the Serbian fortress in a mere twenty seven days.

Pride of place goes to two guns cast in Adrianople which hurl seven hundred pound cannonballs and two forged in Constantinople, whose shot weighs a quarter of a ton. The most common caliber are the twenty eight bombards which shoot missiles weighing a mere two hundred pounds. While their individual punch is much smaller than the great guns, they are much easier to move, fire faster, and are more accurate.

In October Thomas is visited by his oldest daughter Thamar Laskaris Visconti, Duchess of Milan, and his granddaughter Nicia, who is four. While there, Nicia asks her grandfather to show her ‘what emperors do’. So Thomas takes her with when he goes to review his troops, accompanied by a dekarchos named George, and also to the gun foundry where the second five hundred pounder bombard is almost finished. While at the foundry Thomas asks Nicia what the new gun should be named. She immediately blurts out ‘George’, and so the bombard is named.


The bombard George

Meanwhile the Genoese, still trading out of Galata, decide to follow a policy of strict neutrality in regards to the Roman civil war. While the Venetians are gaining power by exploiting the situation, they are also accruing massive amounts of ill will from the Roman populace. The decision to stay neutral is based on the Commune’s desire to avoid having that ill will turned on them.

In the meantime the Mamelukes expel the last Timurid garrison from the territory they had ceded in the Treaty of Jerusalem. Many of the governors in the western regions of Timur’s empire had attempted to set up independent states in the wake of the warlord’s death rather than try to enter the war of succession. The slow speed of the Mameluke re-conquest is due to the fact that the state is still heavily battered from Timur’s invasion, both economically and militarily.

The Ottomans are in somewhat better shape as Osman II took Mosul in November 1412, shortly afterwards reestablishing a border with the Roman Empire on the shores of Lake Van. There are a few skirmishes between the two Muslim states in November and December, but since neither state can afford a large war, they agree to keep to the pre-Timur borders. The general exhaustion of his empire is also why Osman II does not attempt to intervene in the Timurid civil war. He knows that to fulfill his Samarkand pledge will take a long time and first the Turks need to rest and regain their strength.

1414: Novgorod-Lithuania decides to flex its muscles and invades the Grand Duchy of Pronsk, citing border raids and mistreatment of merchants as the reason. The heavily outnumbered Pronsky army is decisively beaten at Mozhaysk on May 27 and again at the small town of Moscow on June 23. The Duchy capitulates three weeks later with almost a quarter of its territory being annexed, split evenly between Novgorod and Lithuania. The former receives both battlefields and associated towns.

At the same time, the Mamelukes invade the Christian kingdom of Makuria, in response to raids on Egyptian caravans conducted by Bedouin tribes that the Makurians are supposed to block according to the bakt. The Makurians rage a fierce guerilla war against the Mameluke armies but are hampered by the large Muslim minority in their northern territories who aid Mameluke forces. Dongola falls in September and with it, the kingdom. The Mameluke border is eventually established at the sixth cataract of the Nile. Between that and Ethiopia lie a patchwork of puny states, a mix of Muslim, Christian, and pagan principalities.

Many of the Christian inhabitants flee southward to Ethiopia. With the continuing Adalese threat, the Ethiopian provincial aristocracy and Chewa (1) regiment commanders agree that a strong king is necessary and consent to the thirty two year old Yekuno Siyon taking the throne, although he only does so on condition that his eldest living son will succeed him on his death. The nobles agree, reasoning that they can ‘renegotiate’ in the future.

Yekuno’s first action as king is not martial but spiritual. He repeals the law that states that an abun, the titular head of the Ethiopian church appointed by the patriarch of Alexandria, is required to remain in Ethiopia after their appointment until their death. Because of this ruling, the Alexandrian patriarchs had often gotten rid of troublesome clerics by appointing them as abun. Yekuno aims to revitalize the Ethiopian church and use it as a vehicle to spread Ethiopian faith and culture to the numerous pagans and Muslims living in the kingdom and hopefully solidify the state.

He is aided in that goal by the continuing bloody war with Adal, as the threat of Muslim conquest galvanizes the Ethiopian clergy. Meanwhile al-Ghazi’s inferior numbers are beginning to take its toll on his cause, as numerous small engagements take place between Ethiopian and Adalese contingents. He wins every battle in which he commands, but the Adalese lost almost every battle where he doesn’t.

Still Ethiopian casualties are very high, particularly amongst the nobility. In his battles Yekuno uses his fast, light troops as a hammer, driving Adalese contingents into the anvil of his heavy troops, who are usually commanded by the provincial aristocrats. With provincial governorships and regiment command posts falling vacant, Yekuno is able to appoint commoners and personal friends to the positions.

The remaining nobility realize what Yekuno is doing, but the monarch’s popularity amongst the commoners and clergy who are finally safe from al-Ghazi’s raids, make them realize that any attempt at revolt during the war would almost certainly fail. Several actually defect to al-Ghazi, taking their feudal troop contingents with them in most cases. While it strengthens al-Ghazi’s forces considerably, it also helps to secure Yekuno’s position. Not only are more administrative posts available to which he can assign his own candidates, but he now has an excuse to keep a very close eye on the remaining nobility.

As blood continues to flow into the headwaters of the Nile, Thomas Laskaris launches his invasion of Anatolia. The Smyrnan fleet, battered and severely outnumbered by the combined Thomasine-Venetian flotilla, is unable to prevent a landing near Nicomedia on April 18. His army is fifty one thousand strong and is supported by an artillery train that is entirely composed of gunpowder weapons, sixty two guns strong. The Venetians are responsible for much of the naval blockade and for ferrying supplies from Europe. To secure his rear, Thomas also begins paying subsidies to the Bulgarians and Serbians, causing some of his European soldiery to mutter about ‘old Laskarid habits.’


The Emperor Thomas I Laskaris and His Army painted by Leonardo d'Saluzzo, 1486. Arguably his famous work, the portrayal of the Romans as Muslim Turks is due to the three years Leonardo spent in Aleppo as part of a trading expedition in 1454-1457. There he spent much time interacting both with Roman Turks and Ottoman Turks, seeing very little difference between the two. Also due to the several border crossings he undertook as part of trade negotiations with the Ottomans, he became very familiar with the Turkopouloi border guards, which only increased his tendency to view all Romans as Turks. The fact that he never went to any part of the Roman Empire other than the Syrian theme meant that his impression was never dispelled.​

While the painting of a large cannon is historically accurate for the depicted campaign, the large number of handguns used by infantry is not. Leonardo is guilty of equipping the Turks/Romans in a manner similar to a contemporary army of the 1480s. At the time of the painted events in 1414, handguns were still a primitive, primarily psychological, weapon. Only the forces of the Bernese League regularly used such devices.​

Nicomedia is well fortified and garrisoned, with six recently installed bombards supplementing the conventional defenses. Demetrios has his light troops continually harass the Thomasine army and with his far greater supply of Turkopouloi makes foraging a very dangerous business for Thomasine troops. As a result, the supplies ferried from Europe become the only dependable source for food and equipment replacements. Smyrnan squadrons repeatedly raid the supply convoys, avoiding direct confrontations with the main fleet.

The local farmers are also extremely hostile to Thomas’ troops, making sure to hide their food stores even when quartermasters offer to pay higher than the market price. Demetrios and Manuel had saved them from Timur; Thomas had not. Some of the European soldiers resort to forced requisitioning from the locals to bolster supplies, but before long Thomas outlaws the practice. Stealing food will not help him win the hearts and minds of the Anatolian people. The naval supply line will have to suffice.

Meanwhile the siege of Nicomedia drags on and on. Knowing that his manpower reserves are low, Thomas attempts to take the siege by bombardment or starvation, not by assault. Yet Thomas’ heavy guns can fire only a few times a day at most, allowing the defenders plenty of time to repair the damage. The main flaw in Thomas’ artillery train is a lack of light guns to sweep the breaches with shot and discourage repair attempts. Meanwhile the smaller guns of the garrison are able to keep up a steady counter-battery fire. By the time the siege enters its second month, seven guns, over ten percent of Thomas’ train, is out of action. One of those incapacitated guns is one of the seven hundred pounder bombards.

As the siege wears on with little end in sight, tensions between the Thomasines and the Venetians increase as the latter are often accused of hoarding the best provisions for themselves. Meanwhile the Venetians complain as Demetrios makes sure to concentrate his naval attacks on Venetian vessels. On May 22, a fight breaks out over a wager on a cock fight. Before long, Venetian sailors are pouring out of their ships as Thomasine troops spill out of their tents, grabbing their weapons and immediately leaping to the attack.

The akritoi are the first to attack, their cleavers lopping the limbs off of the lightly armored Venetian sailors. An attempted Venetian counterattack is flattened when the skutatoi march up, pushing the Venetians back to their ships. Once on board they savage the Roman infantry with ferocious missile volleys while units of toxotai form up along the shore and begin replying in kind. The only reason the commander of the nearest bombard battery does not start shelling the fleet is that his guns had just fired on Nicomedia’s walls and took too long to reload and reposition.

Order is restored after a hour, but the bad relations between the two allies are reduced to abysmal. Attempting to mirror a stunt that they had managed to pull off in 1148, the Venetians attack Thomas’ flagship (he is not aboard at the time) on May 24, endeavoring to commandeer it in response to their losses two days earlier. The assault is beaten off with support from the onshore artillery, one ball from a bombard ripping a Venetian galley in two, killing over half its crew. Thomas is able to patch up a working relationship with the Venetians by making a sizeable cash payment as compensation for damages gained in the May 22 attack.

In Nicaea, Demetrios is kept fully aware of these incidents by his scouts and spies. By the end of May Nicomedia’s supplies are running low and its walls are in poor shape, and he can wait no longer. Although he has a larger army than Thomas, Demetrios is forced to leave substantial forces in eastern Anatolia to guard the frontier. Bands of Ottoman Turks have been joining their ethnic and religious brothers, the Qara Koyunlu, in their fight against Georgia, and frequently the Anatolian frontier forces have to remind them exactly where the border is. This is particularly an issue in the new province of Armenia, ruled for twenty five years by the Ottomans prior to its conquest by Timur. Osman II has yet to abandon his claim to the region. Manuel is currently in Theodosiopolis coordinating the frontier defense.

On June 2, Demetrios’ main army arrives to contest Nicomedia; it is fifty three thousand strong. Skirmishers on both sides repeatedly harry the enemy forces. With his massive advantage in horse archers, Demetrios comes out the better. On June 4, his army marches out of camp just before dawn in full battle array, causing Thomas to march out as well. While Thomas’ troops are busy forming up, seven fire ships are launched against the Venetian fleet at anchor. Through expert seamanship the Venetians are able to fend off the attack with no losses but during the dawn confusion, one of Demetrios’ spies succeeds in killing Thomas while he attempts to organize support for the Venetians.

After the fire ships are destroyed, Thomas’ troops form back up into battle array, grateful that Demetrios failed to launch a simultaneous attack on the camp. They believe that it is because of the ten cannons that had been repositioned to guard the camp from such an attack. Then they realize their leader is dead. Consternation spreads through the ranks as the strategoi hurriedly confer. Thomas had no male heir after the death of his son, while his two daughters are married to the Duke of Milan and the voivode (governor) of Transylvania, a Hungarian vassal. Not wanting a foreign emperor, the strategoi decide to make one of their own the new emperor. Their choice falls on Michael Sphrantzes, who despite his recent addition to the Thomasine cause has quickly become very popular amongst the soldiers.

Michael however refuses the offer publicly in front of his troops. When asked why, he replies “As an emperor in this situation, I would be forced to work with them, and that I cannot countenance.” His outstretched arm points directly at the Venetian ships at anchor. To their right, the Imperial flagship is clearly in view. He then points over at Demetrios’ army and says “But with him as our lord, and a good lord he will be, we will have no need of Italian dogs in our Empire.”

With those words, he wins the support of the troops. The strategoi are more reluctant, but agree after deciding that a condition of their defection will be that they retain their current ranks and privileges. Michael leads the delegation that meets with Demetrios at 10 AM. Demetrios promises that no soldiers or officers in Thomas’ army will be punished in any way and will not be deprived of any of their current possessions, provided that they obey him as their new general and Emperor.

By noon, all of the European and Asian troops are aware of the agreement. There are many vacillators on the European side, until Demetrios issues his first order to the combined army. It is simple: “Kill the Venetians.” The Europeans are happy to comply. The Venetians, who have been watching the situation with increasing concern, immediately begin to weigh anchor, but do not count on the incredible speed of the Roman assault. The attack on May 22 had been bad enough, but that had been a haphazard affair, organized on the spot by the common soldiers. This time the assault groups are already fully formed and organized and led by their officers.

The Venetian sailors on the shore are ridden down by the European cavalry while the artillery is moved into position to start shelling the flotilla. Demetrios throws in his Asian troops to assist, but the European soldiers move too fast and thus do all the fighting. Most of the Venetian fleet is able to escape, but seven galleys are captured while docked, another three are sunk by artillery fire, and four more are captured or sunk by the combined Thomasine-Anatolian fleet.

Demetrios sends for his wife Zoe Laskaris and his son Theodoros, who are in Smyrna, and for Manuel Doukas. When they all arrive, they set sail for Europe; the gates of Constantinople are opened to them without contestation. The inhabitants of the Empire are weary of civil war and are willing to accept a strong leader that brings peace with him. Still in order to secure his position, Demetrios confirms his promises of immunity, extending them to the few thousand of Thomas’ troops that had remained in Europe. His governors and magistrates are also maintained, provided that they agree to serve Demetrios, Manuel and the Empire to the best of their ability. With such a generous offer, Thomas’ administrative staff make little fuss.

On July 1, the half-Turk, half-Greek Demetrios Komnenos is crowned Emperor of the Romans. With that, the Laskarid dynasty, which had ruled for two hundred and nine years (1205-1414), comes to an end. It had produced nine emperors and one empress, not including Maria. Alongside him his wife is crowned as empress and Manuel as co-emperor. On the 27th, Demetrios’ son Theodoros is also crowned on his sixth birthday as co-emperor, with special emphasis placed on his title as Theodoros IV Laskaris Komnenos. He is the second child of Demetrios and Zoe, with an eight year old sister named Anna.

Demetrios’ first official act as emperor is to cancel the subsidies to the Slavs, which the European population regard as an unwarranted humiliation. His second is to formally declare war on the Most Serene Republic of Venice. The Venetian quarter is confiscated, with the possessions and properties there auctioned off and the few remaining inhabitants ransomed. The proceeds are distributed to all the troops of the Empire as a ‘Venetian bonus.’

After eleven long years, the War of the Five Emperors is finally over. The united Empire under the new dynasty still faces many challenges but in the week long celebrations across the Empire that follow the coronation, all of that is forgotten. For now it is enough that the Empire is once again whole.
Part 3

The World Beyond Rhomania


"We are the true sons of Rome. We walk the streets of the Caesars; we speak their language, we rule their homeland. All that the Greeks can claim is a few bright minds in antiquity and a heritage as a race of Roman slaves."-Gherardino Bembo, artist and scholar in Florence, 1420​

1414 continued: There are two special visitors to Constantinople during the coronation, two monks from Ethiopia sent by Yekuno. Ethiopian contacts with the rest of Christendom had been intermittent at best since the fall of Acre, so Demetrios is very intrigued. They gain a personal audience with the new emperor and request that in the interests of aiding a fellow Christian nation, Demetrios sends some Roman artisans to Ethiopia in order to help improve their technological capabilities. Demetrios happily accepts and the monks return to Ethiopia with eight Roman artisans. In return Demetrios receives an ivory staff, with the top six inches overlain with gold leaf and adorned with a ruby the size of his thumb.

However his main concern is stabilizing the empire and winning the war with Venice. If every army unit from the civil war was at full strength, the Empire would have over hundred and fifty thousand men under arms, a number that cannot be sustained for long. He needs to decrease the cost of the army, but to do it in a way that doesn’t diminish his authority or release a bunch of armed brigands into the provinces.

His first step is to increase the interval between equipment bonuses from two to four years (the next bonus was due in 1415 under the old system). The soldiers immediately protest, forcing Demetrios to placate them by promising that the intervals will return to the usual two year cycle starting in 1421 and that there will be no more pay cuts.

Forced to rely on more subtle methods, Demetrios takes advantage of the fact that due to the civil war, many of the formations have holes. Two of the ‘free’ tourmai are converted into regular tagma troops by breaking them up and distributing the troops amongst the themes and cleisurai. However with the nine pre-Caesarea themes now numbering eleven plus fourteen cleisurai, Demetrios is out of the land grants that make the tagma-theme system affordable, and he has to somehow pay for a standing army of twenty three thousand men (the three Athanatoi corps, five thousand strong each, plus the Constantinople and Antioch archontates, one thousand strong each, and six ‘free’ tourmai, also one thousand strong each). Simply disbanding them is not an option, as they will almost certainly turn to brigandage.

The only possibility Demetrios sees available is that he must conquer more territory in order to make more themes so he has the room to convert his standing troops into tagma ones. He rejects Bulgaria or Serbia; he does not want an unruly Slavic population and it would be a blatant violation of the Treaty of Dyrrachium, which he had proclaimed to still be in effect before he stepped foot in Europe.

Despite the loss of their subsidies, both Slavic states have been quiet as neither is particularly willing to take on even a distracted but intact Roman Empire. Also since Serbia’s invasion of Bulgaria in 1405, the two Slavic states have been more intent on fighting each other rather than their neighbors. Since an incident between border patrols in September 1412, there has been a low-scale border war in effect along the Morava river, with most of the fighting taking place near the Bulgarian city of Vidin. Demetrios and Manuel have no desire to interrupt this turn of affairs.

Their eyes turn to where Roman splinter states are still in existence, Crimea and southern Italy, where Theodoro and Apulia respectively remain outside of his control. However attacking Theodoro would potentially involve crossing swords with the Blue Horde, while they cannot attack Apulia and its Neapolitan overlord until Venice is dealt with. The Venetian war itself is also not a solution, as Venice’s empire, though wealthy, lacks enough territory to satisfy Demetrios’ territorial requirements. The only areas that might help in that regard are Crete and Dalmatia. Still the former would only make a small dent in the standing army while a Roman attack on Dalmatia would significantly increase the chances of a Hungarian war.

Still he can lay some preliminary groundwork. The tagma troops are all taken off of active duty, saving Demetrios the cost of their active duty pay increase, and are sent back to their estates. With the blight diminishing in potency and a larger agricultural workforce now available, the threat of famine is diminished. He intends to make war on Venice solely with the standing troops and the fleet.

Demetrios makes sure that the review system is reestablished, with all of the old rules and penalties reinstated. With the cleisurai, each formation is subordinated to a theme. The regular tourma reviews conducted in a theme are copied in each cleisurae, but for the two annual tagma reviews, the cleisurae troops report to the tagma to which they are assigned. There they, like the regular tagma troops, are given their pay.

Also he adds a new feature to the review system, inspired by the effectiveness of Timur’s twenty-men squadrons of Persian lancers at Manzikert. To receive full pay, soldiers must not only meet certain individual equipment and training standards at the beginning of each review, but now so must each kontoubernion, the ten (in the case of heavy cavalry, five) man squad. While the members of the kontoubernion live near each other and regularly train together, such behavior had never been enforced under the Laskarids. The regular review periods had been concerned with the performance and coordination of droungos level formations and higher. Now the dekarchos of each kontoubernion is responsible for ensuring that the squad members are trained to work together in between the regular tagma and tourma reviews. Failure to meet the required standards results in pay reductions for each member of the kontoubernion.

At this point most of the Asian tagmata have still not recovered significantly from the bloody battle of Manzikert, with many vacant estates scattered across the themes. Since Demetrios and Manuel have more troops than they need, they are in no rush to fill the gaps. It is Manuel that discovers a way to use the situation to reward the Asian troops for their service. In September an edict is issued, authorizing second and third sons of soldiers to take over these empty estates and their assigned duties. This allows soldiers to provide multiple sons with inheritances, rather than just one.

Since many of the serving soldiers are relatively new recruits who have been on active duty for most of the last decade and thus have had little time to start a family, many of the potential tenants created by this edict are far too young to take up soldierly duties. However the edict allows soldiers to claim estates for their male heirs before they are of age, provided that they do not claim a vacant estate attached to a soldier type more than one level above their own troop type. Also the claim has to be made on behalf of a living son, although even a newborn can qualify. If the son dies before he reaches an age where he can take up military duties, the claim dies with him.

The advantage of this system is that not only are the Anatolian troops exuberant about the edict, but it will steadily restore the Anatolian tagmata to full strength. However it will do so at a slow, steady rate which will not strain the treasury as soldiers’ sons gradually come of age and take their claims. It also encourages the growth of military families, raising the Empire’s population and tax base.

Demetrios also considers converting some of the tagma troops into regular farmers, allowing them to keep their estates so they don’t run amok. However he promised not to disband any of the European tagmata, and the Asian ones would not appreciate having their ranks slashed after they had fought so hard and long for his cause. Plus during the argument over the intervals between equipment bonuses, the troops made it clear that they would regard an attack on one formation as an attack on all formations.

In the midst of the tagma reforms, the standing troops conduct the war with Venice. One of the Athanatoi formations and all of the ‘free’ tourmai are dispatched to the Crimea along with a dozen cannon to take Soldaia and Kaffa. The Venetians resist fiercely, but are outnumbered and have no possibility of reinforcement. They appeal to Sarai for aid, only to realize that the Khan, fixated on his invasion of the White Horde, is in no mood to intervene after Demetrios promises to pay the protection money for the two cities.

With their morale low and their walls crumbling under the crash of the Roman artillery, both cities capitulate by October. One tourmai is left behind as a new archontate, although the troops are evenly split between the two cities, while the remainder return to Constantinople. During the Crimean campaign the rest of the Imperial fleet had been engaging the Venetians. Due to their proximity to Constantinople, both Imbros and Lemnos fell quickly, with two batteries of eight bombards assisting in the capture of Imbros.

After the fall of Lemnos, a Genoese delegation approaches the Emperors to offer aid against the Venetians. Knowing that the Roman navy would not be enamored of the prospect of fighting alongside the Venetians, combined with the fact that the Marinids have been making demonstrations against Genoese Tunis, the Genoese are unwilling to commit ships or men. Coin is another matter; they offer a loan of 100,000 hyperpyra, to be spent on the war effort against Venice, which will not accrue interest if repaid before December 1417. Demetrios and Manuel happily accept, calling the Genoese ‘true friends of the Empire, whose kindness will not be forgotten or go unrewarded’. It is a purely commercial arrangement as Genoa does not enter the war.

After Lemnos, the war begins to get harder for the Romans. With the Venetian fleet basing out of Euboea and Crete, taking those two islands, as well as Andros and Kythera, prove to be much more difficult. The European naval squadrons are inferior in quality to the Venetian fleet and are used to being beaten, while the Asian forces took heavy casualties in the final stages of the civil war. Demetrios and Manuel could expand the navy, but galleys are expensive in terms of manpower and returning soldiers to active duty as marines would only further strain the battered treasury.

Demetrios decides to try something novel. He had been impressed by the performance of Thomas’ artillery when used on Venetian ships at Nicomedia and decides to harness that. He commissions the best shipwrights and gunsmiths in the Empire to come up with a vessel capable of crumpling galleys with mass gunfire. They base their design off of the large cargo vessels used by Genoa and Portugal, producing a three-masted vessel, with high fore and stern castles as artillery platforms. While slow and not very maneuverable, it is perfect for what Demetrios has in mind, a floating gun battery that will smash enemy galleys to splinters at range. Upon seeing the design, the Emperor likens it to the skutatoi, with the regular galleys acting as the akritoi. The design type is called a πυρξίφος ναυς (transliteration: purxiphos naus, translation: firesword ship).

While not as versatile as galleys, the purxiphoi have much smaller crews than the older vessels due to the lack of rowers. Since the largest maintenance cost for warships is the pay of their crews, this means that once constructed, the purxiphoi are fairly cheap to maintain, although the pay of the skilled gunners is much more than that of a rower. For gunners, Demetrios draws on those already in his service. Since they are used to operating artillery while on land, the Emperor purchases three cargo vessels from Genoa that closely match the characteristics of purxiphoi. While the gunships are being constructed the gunners practice firing cannons at sea while on board the freighters.

In Azerbaijan, Georgia annihilates a Qara Koyunlu army at the battle of Chemakha on June 19, with the city of Baku falling shortly afterwards. By the end of the year Qara Koyunlu forces are in full retreat with Georgia controlling virtually all of Azerbaijan north of the Kur River.

1415: There are several naval skirmishes in the southern Aegean between the Imperial and Venetian fleets. Following Demetrios’ orders, Roman squadrons only engage in battle if possible near the coast in order to minimize losses from drowning. The Venetians win most but the Romans give a good account of themselves as inexperienced European crews are paired with experienced Anatolian ones. Supported by the Anatolian crews, Demetrios is using these small engagements to build up his European sailors’ experience while the shipyards construct the purxiphoi (fireswords). In August he has eight, each one with eight heavy guns and six smaller ones.

The fleet sets sail for Euboea in October, the intervening two months having consisted of training exercises in the Marmara to help the galleys and purxiphoi work together. On October 11, it is challenged off Skopelos. The Romans have seventy nine galleys and the eight purxiphoi; the Venetians have ninety galleys. With only a weak breeze blowing, eight galleys are detailed to help pull the purxiphoi into position.

The Venetians assume the purxiphoi are odd looking troop transports and immediately move to engage, charging directly at the heart of the Roman fleet. After holding until the Venetians are well within range to improve accuracy, the cannons on the purxiphoi smash the leading Venetian galleys, sowing confusion amongst the ranks. As the Venetians close, they come under the fire of the lighter guns, which rake the decks of the galleys. While their shot is too small to sink galleys, the waves of wooden shrapnel they send flying scythe down the Venetian marines.

When the Roman galleys flanking the purxiphoi enter the engagement, they are fresh, organized, and in high spirits. The Venetians have none of those qualities but are still brave and determined. However it is not enough against the steel of Roman cannon and mace; the two hour battle ends with a crushing Roman victory. Seven Roman galleys were sunk and 1,100 men killed. The Venetians lose twenty galleys that were sunk, eighteen captured, and the loss of almost eleven thousand men.

The Venetian survivors scatter, allowing ten thousand Roman troops to be landed on Euboea without incident. For siege equipment they use some of the guns from the purxiphoi. All of the island except Negroponte falls by the end of October, with that city managing to hold out until late November. Along with the city, the Romans capture six galleys that had fled there after Skopelos.

In the east, the Timurid civil war ends with Timur’s grandson Shah Rukh emerging victorious. However out of all of Timur’s vast empire, he only rules the old Chagatai portion north of the Kopet Dag mountain range that Timur had controlled in 1380. The rest of his great domain has succeeded in breaking away. A new Jalayirid state stretches from the Caspian to the Persian Gulf, while Sistan, Baluchistan, Kerman, and Khorasan are all independent. The first and last are ruled by members of the Timurid dynasty, with the other two ruled by Timurid provincial governors who went independent.

A Georgian army annihilates a Qara Koyunlu force with a sizeable Ottoman contingent, roughly twenty percent of the whole Turkic army, at Narekavank on September 9. The Azerbaijani war, which had largely consisted of raids and skirmishes since the fall of Baku, finally comes to an end after the battle. The region north of the Kur river is ceded to Georgia, while the Qara Koyunlu living in the region between the Kur and Lake Van become Georgian vassals. The Kingdom of Georgia now stretches from the Black Sea to the Caspian.

1416: The Venetians are humbled but not beaten. Even with the loss of Euboea, the stakes are too high for them to back out now, as the key to their commercial network in the east is Crete. If they lose the island while Genoa retains Coron and Modon, their mercantile supremacy in the east will be in jeopardy. By extracting forced loans from merchants and conscripting Dalmatian sailors Venice is able to field another fleet, actually one hundred and two galleys strong, by March. The survivors of Skopelos are incorporated into the flotilla.

Venice’s actions in Dalmatia exceedingly annoy Ragusa and Zara, the richest of the Dalmatian cities. Commercial rivals with Venice, they find their vassalage to the Serene Republic and the ensuing Adriatic trade restrictions that come with that position most distasteful. The forcible conscription of their people, which includes Venetian press gangs roaming the waterfront kidnapping any able-bodied men they can find, is the last straw. As the Venetian armada makes its way down the Adriatic, Dalmatian envoys arrive in Buda.

They offer to transfer their allegiance to the Hungarian crown, provided that Andrew III promises not to interfere in their trade in any way or install a Hungarian garrison in their cities. Still smarting after the debacle in Germany as well as a series of minor Vlach victories over Hungarian forces, Andrew is eager for a chance to regain his lost prestige. Assembling the main Hungarian army and supplementing it with Croat contingents in his capacity as King of Croatia, he enters Venetian Dalmatia in late March.

The Roman and Venetian fleets make contact off the coast of Monemvasia on March 31. The Romans field ten purxiphoi and eighty galleys. Now aware of the danger posed by the purxiphoi, the Venetian galleys close fast, maneuvering to avoid the incoming volleys. Due to the slow rate of fire and low accuracy of the Roman guns, they are largely successful in their efforts, but the Venetian crews are significantly winded by the time the Roman galleys leap to the attack. That a sizeable portion of the Venetian fleet is either green or unmotivated due to their Dalmatian origins only compounds their problems.

The ensuing melee action is utterly ruthless. Impressed by the performance of akritoi against Venetian sailors at Nicomedia, many of the Roman marines are armed like the light infantry. Under the cover of a hail of javelins and arrows, they leap onto the Venetian decks, slashing with their deadly cleavers. The Venetians smash back with their swords and war hammers. The Venetian flagship is overrun by the Romans, recaptured, overrun again, recaptured again, and overrun for the third and final time. It is said by some of the Roman sailors that the entire deck of the ship was covered in bodies three layers thick.

Due to their superior numbers, five of the Venetian vessels are able to outflank the Roman line and try to storm one of the purxiphoi which had been attempting to maneuver to where it could fire its guns into the Venetian ranks without hitting Roman vessels, without success due to the light wind. Despite their massive advantage in manpower, the Venetians fail in their attempt. Sailors climbing up the boarding ladders are immediately attacked by axe-bearing marines, who quickly begin to chop off the hands of Venetian sailors as they reach the railing. The last galley, seeing the miserable failure of the earlier four, attempts to back off but accidentally positions itself as a perfect target for a broadside at point-blank range. A quartet of one hundred seventy pound cannonballs disintegrate the vessel; less than ten percent of the crew survives.

The entire naval battle from start to finish lasts for three and a half hours. While the Venetians give a much better account of themselves than they did at Skopelos, the defeat is just as total. The Romans lose twelve galleys and 6,500 men. The Venetians lose forty nine galleys, thirty of them captured, and over eighteen thousand men. While the Venetian prisoners are held for ransom, the captured Dalmatian sailors are immediately released and allowed to return home.

When news of Monemvasia reaches Venice, panic immediately begins to break out. Rumors abound that the Hungarian army and the Roman navy intend to launch a joint attack on the city. Three days after Monemvasia, the Zarans expel their Venetian garrison and open their gates to the Hungarians. While Demetrios had nothing to do with the Hungarian intervention and has no plans of cooperating with them, he welcomes the fearful atmosphere in Venice.

In June the Roman fleet docks at Dyrrachium while envoys are sent to Venice. Previously it had dropped off small Roman forces that quickly overrun Andros and Kythera. The Romans make no attempt to hide the location of their fleet, or the fact that Demetrios and all of the Athanatoi and ‘free’ tourmai are assembling in the city with numerous supplies and siege equipment. Manuel is back in Constantinople overseeing the Empire.

Demetrios’ demands are harsh. Venice will formally cede Soldaia, Kaffa, and all of the Aegean islands save Crete, the rent for which will be increased to 22,000 hyperpyra annually. The Venetians will still have a rent-free quarter in Constantinople, but any dock space in other ports will have to be purchased at market prices, and they will have to pay a six percent customs duty and be barred from the Black Sea.

Demetrios is encouraged by some to attack and retake Crete. However Demetrios wants the Venetian war over with quickly for the sake of the treasury, and the Venetians would be extremely reluctant to give up Crete. Also the high value the island has in Venetian eyes is something that might prove useful in the future. Due to geography, the Romans can much more easily attack Crete than Venice can reinforce it. So if in the future the Romans need to acquire concessions in other areas from the Venetians, they can easily gain them by threatening Crete. To retake the island would remove that diplomatic option.

Even with their control of Crete uncontested, the Venetians are utterly enraged by the terms, but news of Ragusa’s defection in late May and reports of ominous Milanese troop movements near Mantua give them little choice. When the treaty is signed on June 10, the only concession that the Venetians gain from the original offer is the right to trade in the Black Sea, although they still lose their colonies.

With his fleet, army, supplies, and siege equipment already in place at Dyrrachium, Demetrios wastes no time in enacting the true goal of his campaign. He had already made contact with Basil Laskaris, governor of Apulia, promising that Basil will be allowed to maintain his position and possessions and that neither he nor his two sons will be castrated, provided that he defects upon a Roman invasion of Italy. When Demetrios’ fleet appears off Bari on June 23, Basil keeps up his end of the bargain and is confirmed in his position as Governor of Apulia. With the defection of Bari, the rest of Apulia quickly follows.

Demetrios’ army is half the size of the force used in his uncle George’s Italian campaign, but his troops are much more experienced and have a far better commander. He also receives some reinforcements from the Apulians as he marches westward. Taken completely by surprise, the Neapolitans are unable to gather their forces before Demetrios’ bombards are hammering at the walls of Naples. The fleet sails around Italy in the meantime and imposes a tight blockade. By August 5 a Neapolitan force of some sixteen thousand soldiers is assembled and attacks Demetrios, but is outmaneuvered and destroyed in a two hour battle. Naples itself falls on August 12.

Having captured the entire Neapolitan royal family, Demetrios has no need to be generous. Everything south of the Salerno-Bari line is ceded to the Empire, including Salerno itself. In exchange all prisoners will be returned without ransom, a clause that vastly favors Naples, but Naples will have to pay a tribute equivalent to 40,000 hyperpyra for the next eight years. Also all of the plunder from Naples remains in Roman hands. At the same time Naples’ trade concessions in Bari are canceled.

The ‘offer’ is grudgingly accepted much to Demetrios’ delight, although it takes him over six weeks to establish his authority in the south. He immediately converts Manuel’s and Thomas’ old Athanatoi into tagma troops, creating the tagma of Italia. He also takes four of the ‘free’ tourmai and converts them into cleisurai, along with the Bari archontate troops. Demetrios also arranges the families and possessions of the troops to be transferred to Italy free of charge. The displaced Italian families flee north, most of them eventually settling in the Duchy of Milan.

The Apulian levies that Basil had formed during his vassalage are disbanded as well. However those levies are only allowed to return to their farms after turning in all their military equipment, for which they are reimbursed at the prices their equipment would have fetched if they were sold from the state warehouses responsible for providing equipment for the tagma troops. The tagma troops do not protest this action.

Shortly afterward Demetrios rules that the allagions, the small infantry troop formations kept in frontier cities, will no longer be paid by the central government but by their respective cities. Since they were purely defensive units, the allagions saw little action during the civil war and have little interaction with the tagma troops, who therefore do not protest this action either. At a stroke, Demetrios removes over four thousand troops from the army payroll. However due to the desire to cut corners, the cities do not pay the troops as much. The soldiers are forced to take up other occupations to supplement their income and gradually turn into a militia.

With the removal of the allagions and the conversion of two thirds of the standing army into tagma troops, the budget crisis is alleviated. Demetrios had been dipping into his personal fortune to help pay the troops during the Neapolitan war. Now there is no longer a deficit, but the budgetary surplus is laughably minute. In order to bolster the surplus, he needs to convert his two remaining ‘free’ tourmai into tagma troops, keeping only his Athanatoi and the archontates as full time soldiers.

During Demetrios’ invasion of Italy, the Pope in Rome had attempted to call a crusade. While a few insignificant contingents from central Italy did join the Neapolitan army and receive crusading indulgences, the speed of the Roman advance prevented the movement from becoming more serious, serving mainly to annoy the Romans by its existence. Determined not to be upstaged by his rival, the Pope in Avignon also declares a crusade but directs it at the Marinids.

However while Demetrios’ Neapolitan campaign was a great military success, which Demetrios himself considered to be his best conducted campaign, it seriously damages relations with the west. To preserve the element of surprise, Demetrios had not issued a formal declaration of war before his ships appeared off the coast of Apulia. The Pope uses this to portray Demetrios and the Empire as violent warmongers.

In October the Roman fleet appears off the coast of the Principality of Theodoro. Even though the army it is transporting only numbers seven thousand strong, commanded by Demetrios it is too powerful for the Theodorons to handle, and they know it. Sarai cannot help them as the Blue and White Hordes are engaged in a fierce war which the White Horde is currently winning.

Prince Alexios III Gabras surrenders after a token resistance that lasts only for two days. He and his family are given estates in Thracesia and are allowed to retire there intact. The lightly populated Principality, which had been heavily afflicted by the plague epidemics of the fourteenth century, has almost enough room to settle the two ‘free’ tourmai as cleisurai. There is some relocation, but the Theodorons who are forced to move are, since they are Greek, given townhouses in either Soldaia, Kaffa, Trebizond, or Constantinople (the Theodorons are allowed to choose which city), free shipping for themselves and their possessions, and a two year tax exemption. Even with these concessions, the transfer of two thousand men from standing to tagma allows the yearly budget to start showing a small surplus, but it is far smaller than that enjoyed by the Laskarids.

When Demetrios returns to Constantinople, the units on the Roman army payroll are as follows: (These figures assume full strength formations)

Tagma troops:

Nine pre-Caesarea tagmata: 90,000 men

Three post-Caesarea tagmata (Epirus, Hellas, and Italy): 30,000 men

Twenty one cleisurai (Five in Italy, Four in Greece, Ten in Anatolia, Two in Crimea): 21,000 men

Eleven banda: 2,200 men

Standing troops:

The Athanatoi: 5,000 men

Three archontates (Constantinople, Antioch, and Crimea): 3,000 men

Grand total: 151,200 men (with the current status of the post-Manzikert Anatolian tagmata factored in, the actual total is around 136,000)

Map of West Asia, December 1416:


1) Kingdom of Hungary and Croatia, exercises loose hegemony over Vlachia.
2) Kingdom of Serbia
3) Kingdom of Bulgaria
4) Genoese colonies of Vospoda and Tana
5) Qara Koyunlu tribes-Georgian vassals
6) Emirate of Gilan-briefly controlled by the Jalayirids, it broke away in early 1416. The Jalayirids' control over their sizeable domains is rather shaky due to two decades of Timurid rule, with the Khan in Fars more of a 'First among Equals' rather than a supreme ruler. However the Persian magnates prefer Fars to either Baghdad or Samarkand.
7) Emirate of Qatar
8) Emirate of Hormuz
9) White Horde
10) Swati Kingdom of Kashmir, Buddhist monarchy with sizeable Hindu and Muslim minorities
11) Sultanate of Delhi
12) Sultanate of Khorasan (T)
13) Emirate of Sistan (T)
14) Emirate of Baluchistan​

The Timurid Empire, Khorasan, and Sistan are all ruled by members of the Timurid dynasty.​

Map of Italy, December 1416:


1) Principality of Zahumlje-Bosnian vassal
2) Duchy of Ancona
3) Duchy of Urbino
4) The Romagna-divided into patchwork of petty states
5) Republic of Siena
6) Republic of Florence-with its Milanese rival distracted by the Swiss, the Florentines were able to retake Modena in 1414 after losing it in 1408. Florence and Milan are currently at peace but that is likely to change.
7) Republic of Pisa
8) Republic of Lucca
9) County of Nice
10) County of Saluzzo
11) Bernese League
12) Swiss Confederation
13) Petty German states​

Eye in the Storm: The Swati Kingdom of Kashmir

The Swati Kingdom of Kashmir began with the emigration of the Pashtun Swati tribe from their original lands north of Kabul to the Kashmir valley in the 1330s. Pashtun migration had been occurring for quite some time, but in the opposite direction into the Delhi Sultanate, where Pashtun soldiers were in high demand to combat their aggressive Hindu Bihari and Vijayangara neighbors. However the Swati had mainly kept out of this trend, an oversight that allowed their tribal rivals to gain significant influence in the halls of Delhi. That development is what finally encouraged the Swati to leave their homeland.

Divided into several minor states, the Kashmir region had possessed a substantial Buddhist population for a thousand years by that point. Like their Pashtun cousins in Delhi, they quickly became prominent as mercenary soldiers, using that position to take over control of Baramulla, one of the largest Kashmir states. By 1360 they had become rulers of the entire Kashmir valley.

Originally Muslim in their Afghan homeland, they had converted to Buddhism both to avoid the cultural hegemony of the Delhi sultanate and to conciliate their subjects. However there were substantial minorities of Hindus and Muslims in their domains. In 1415, Swati Kashmir is sixty percent Buddhist, twenty percent Muslim, sixteen percent Hindu, and four percent Nestorian Christian. The latter is concentrated around Jammu and Srinagar.

Due to the significant religious diversity, the Swati follow a policy of religious tolerance. Buddhist stupas, Muslim mosques, Hindu temples, and Nestorian churches dot the landscape with many of the local saints and holy sites shared by some or all of the faiths. The stupas are the most common though, even when one discounts the Buddhist numerical advantage, as the Swati kings regularly subsidize their construction and maintenance. The other religious buildings are paid for by their congregations or wealthy patrons, particularly textile merchants, but unlike in the Roman Empire, they do not have to pay a special fee or obtain a special permit.

Srinagar, the Swati capital, is a major center of scholarship, drawing from ancient traditions of Hindu and Buddhist learning. Both the Buddhist and Nestorian monks maintain sizeable scriptoriums in the city copying numerous texts, particularly the Mahayana sutras. Several encyclopedias on botany and zoology are also products of the monastic scribes. One interesting feature of having Buddhist and Christian monasteries next to each other is that by 1400 some of the Christian monks have started combining prayer and yoga in a new syncretic practice.

Kashmir is a fairly wealthy country. In Srinagar the mint produces the silver and copper sasnu, square shaped coins, that are used as currency throughout the country, which mainly operates as a money economy except for the largely barren Ladakh region. The silver sasnus are used in international trade as they are of high quality, with a few even turning up in the hands of Antiochene merchants.


A silver sasnu​

Kashmir’s main exports are knowledge, clerics, and textiles. Because of their high quality, Kashmiri textiles are valued through west Asia and India, often used by the upper classes as signs of their status. Many of the textile merchants who go to Delhi with their caravans loaded with fine cloth and carpets are Nestorian Christians, allowing that minority to yield power disproportionate to their share of the population.

The army is another tool used by the Swati to encourage religious coexistence, as the various regiments are deliberately composed of a mixed body of adherents. With the use of a textile tax, the Swati kings are able to maintain a royal core of professional cavalry regiments, trained in the use of the bow, lance, and sword. These are supplemented by provincial levies called up in times of need, with each district having to provide a certain number of men equipped to a certain standard based on the district’s population and wealth.

Kashmir managed to survive the hurricane that was Timur intact by becoming a vassal early in his reign. The vassalage was broken after his death but the Buddhist state remained outside of the Timurid war of succession. Shah Rukh, the ruler of Samarkand, is currently occupied with containing the rising power of the Uzbek Khanate, which rose to power after Timur crippled the rulers of Moghulistan. If he succeeds in that regard, his attention will most likely focus on Persia, where his cousin Jahangir leads the state of Khorasan and its elite corps of heavy infantry, used to such great effect at Manzikert.

As a result, Kashmir faces no threats to the north and west. To the south the Delhi Sultanate is a spent force, territorially still large but ruling over an embittered Hindu populace antagonized by years of oppression instigated by Pashtun generals and viziers. All the strength of Delhi must be spent on its southern and eastern frontiers against the Empire of Vijayanagar and the Kingdom of Bihar. However to the east lies a new and immensely dangerous power-Shun China.

1417: In March the Crown of Thrones is transferred from Smyrna to Constantinople amid great rejoicing, escorted there by the purxiphoi. One of the honored guests at the transfer ceremony is Andrea Alessi, Doge of Genoa, there to personally give his congratulations to Demetrios for his great victory over Venice. Also at this time the Roman debt to Genoa is repaid from the spoils from Naples. The two men, who were born within four months of each other, quickly strike up a friendship, often hunting together.

However their interaction is not all play. The two rulers along with Manuel also hold a series of meetings, their purpose: to destroy the economic power of Venice in the Empire. Several economic reforms come out of the conference that lasts for over five weeks (there were several breaks for hunting excursions). First a new tax is levied on fur and slaves from the Ukraine that are shipped out through Roman Crimean ports, a tax of five folloi a head on slaves and a two folloi tax on each pelt. These are lump sums levied on the amount of merchandise, not quality. It is a small tax, easily paid for by Roman merchants entering the trade, but foreign (Venetian) merchants have to exchange their gold or silver currency for the folloi at the new exchange center set up in Kaffa. Genoese merchants, who ship out of their colonies at Vospoda or Tana are unaffected by the new tax.

Demetrios and Manuel also pass two laws regarding the non-commercial activities of foreign merchants in the Empire. First a ruling is made that any foreigner ‘residing in Greek lands for thirty six months out of a forty eight month period or more is no longer considered in our eyes to be a foreigner, but to be a resident of our Empire and therefore responsible for paying the same taxes and tolls as any other resident.’ This ruling applies to both Genoese and Venetians.

However the use of the phrase ‘Greek lands’ refers to all of the Empire, plus Venetian Crete which is still a Greek land as its population is mostly Greek even though it is not controlled by Greeks. Thus all the Genoese have to do to avoid this proviso is occasionally spend time in the Crimean colonies, while Venetians are forced to return to Venetian territory in Italy or Dalmatia, rather than just make the short hop to Crete. Admittedly the ability of the Empire to confirm that an absent Venetian merchant is not residing in Crete is somewhat limited. Yet it is not completely unenforceable as the Empire maintains numerous spies and informers on the island, in addition to the reports of Roman merchants who dock there and from the consulate in Candia, Crete’s largest city.

The other law is composed of two related statutes. First it is ruled that if a foreigner establishes a home, warehouse, or shop outside of the assigned quarter, that foreigner is automatically to be considered an Imperial resident. This is mainly a concern in Constantinople where most Italian merchants live and where the Genoese quarter at Galata is almost three times larger than the Venetian quarter (for customer convenience, the Galata Genoese maintain a free ferry that crosses the Golden Horn every half hour between sunrise and sunset). Also in the case of a mixed Latin-Greek marriage, the nationality of any offspring is determined on where they are raised. If they are raised in Greek lands, then they are considered to be Imperial residents, while if they are raised in non-Greek lands they are considered to be citizens of whatever foreign nation to which the Latin belonged. Due to the long and uninterrupted occupation of Coron and Modon by the Genoese (by this point almost a hundred and fifty years) they are not considered Greek lands.

The final piece of legislation that comes out of the conference is a ruling that states that alum and mastic cannot be exported from the Empire in vessels that are not owned by Imperial citizens. However the law allows for five dispensations to the ruling, but no more. As soon as the law is on the books, Demetrios has the five dispensation forms drawn up and immediately gives them to Andrea in exchange for fifty thousand hyperpyra. While the law restricts Genoese access to the very lucrative market in those two products, Andrea is very pleased with it. He can use the dispensation forms to reward his political allies back in Genoa.

The Venetians are naturally horrified at the new legislature and the Venetian bailo immediately protests. As a deliberate snub the displaced Sheik of Touggourt, an oasis in the Algerian Sahara, is given precedence over the bailo. However both the bailo and the sheik are turned away empty handed. The Sheik had annoyed his Marinid overlords and had been forced to flee in 1410, trying to gain military support to retake his lands ever since.

Meanwhile Venice’s war with Hungary is going badly. With thousands dead and many still awaiting ransom from her war with the Romans, the Serene Republic does not have the manpower to wage an effective war. By this point Dalmatia has completely fallen with the main Hungarian army investing Trieste in May. Hungarian cavalry raids pour into the Veneto, their campfires visible in the lagoon.

There are only two states that can aid Venice in her plight. The first is Bavaria, which is not thrilled by the prospect of a Hungarian foothold in Italy. However Bavaria’s efforts are focused to the north due to increasingly poor relations with Saxony-Brandenburg, which has been eyeing Pomerania and forging a marriage alliance with Bohemia. Thus Bavaria’s response to Hungary is merely to create a defensive alliance with Tyrol and confirm the one it has with Austria. Also Bavaria, mirroring a recent Urbinese innovation, establishes a permanent resident ambassador in Vienna. But that does nothing to strengthen Venice.

The other potential ally is Milan, the most powerful Italian state. However Milan is enjoying watching one of its most dangerous rivals being repeatedly humbled. Thus when Venetian envoys arrive in Milan to ask for an alliance, the price is high. In exchange for Milan waging war on land against the Hungarians in Italy and Istria (but not Dalmatia) for up to five years and promising not to make peace without Venice’s consent unless the five year term has lapsed, Venice must abandon all claims to Brescia, cede the city of Verona, and also abandon all claims to Italian territories to the south of the Po (the most important of which is the claim on Rimini) and cede those claims to Milan. During negotiations the news arrives that Trieste has fallen. Nothing stands between the Hungarian royal army and Italy itself. Venice accepts the Milanese terms.

Milanese army contingents immediately move east, garrisoning Verona less than ten days after the agreement. Meanwhile the Hungarian army moves into the Friuli, Dalmatian vessels along the coast functioning as the supply train. In August, the Venetian fleet of forty seven galleys sets sail from the lagoon to cut that supply line, knowing that if they fail the city is likely doomed. Already forward squadrons of the Hungarian host can be seen from Venice, as the towns of northeast Italy are unwilling to resist the inexorable Magyar advance. On July 25, the first cannonballs, fired from guns forged in Macedonia and purchased by Andrew, begin falling in the lagoon.

Venetian agents in Lombardy, disgusted by the slowness of the Milanese mobilization, turn to another source of military aid, the Swiss Confederation. For almost a hundred years the halberdiers of the mountain cantons have been the terror of their neighbors. However much of their strength has been frittered away in an ongoing low level war with the Bernese League that has waxed and waned intermittently since the Bernese rival city of Freiburg entered the Confederacy in 1352. While the Bernese cannot match the cantons in numbers or ferocity, their soldiers are better disciplined, their leaders generally of better quality, and they are the pioneers of Europe in the area of handgun technology. Also the Habsburg counts of Breisgau and Sundgau are members of the Bernese League, providing League armies with a well equipped corps of German knights that feature prominently in League tactics.

With a truce in effect with Bern, many of the Swiss soldiers are happy to be recruited as mercenaries. Venice is able, barely, to pay for them by levying emergency taxes and forcing local merchants to loan the state money at low interest rates. With eight thousand Swiss mercenaries entering Italy, the Milanese begin acting more aggressively with several skirmishes occurring between Milanese and Hungarian horse. The Hungarians, equipped with capable light cavalry called hussars and Cuman horse archer contingents, repeatedly outmaneuver the Italian cavalry bedecked in plate.

On August 3 two pivotal battles occur, one on land and one at sea. At Treviso the Swiss army, followed by a Milanese force commanded by the Duke himself, confronts the main section of the Hungarian army commanded by King Andrew himself. The force had been gathering provisions for the final surge toward Venice itself. The Swiss, contemptuous of cavalry heavy armies due to their repeated victories over German cavalry units, immediately attack despite being outnumbered four to one, refusing to wait for the Milanese army to join them. Andrew, who had faced the Swiss before in his invasion of Austria, immediately begins planning a trap.

Glistening in the afternoon sunlight, the Swiss halberdiers rush across the field. While Andrew has a corps of plate-equipped heavy cavalry, most of his army is composed of hussars and horse archers, while most of his infantry are crossbowmen. The light cavalry demonstrate on the flanks of the Swiss, forcing them to form their hedgehog formation to not be overrun by a charge. But in such an array they are unable to advance and are hammered by missile volleys from the horse archers and infantry. The Swiss try to march towards the king’s position but every time they move they are charged by the light Hungarian horse, forcing them to remain in formation. Lightly armored to improve speed and endurance, the Swiss infantry have little protection from the missile storms.

Two hours after the battle began the slow moving Milanese arrive on the field and halt. The Milanese have also fought the Swiss and despise them since the Swiss executed all their Milanese prisoners, per their usual practice. A Milanese envoy reaches Andrew and informs him that provided that none of his troops attack the Italians, they will stand back and allow the Hungarians to destroy the Swiss.

With that threat gone, Andrew orders his heavy cavalry to dismount and commands them to take off all their plate armor except for their cuirass. Since they are still equipped with a gambeson and a full suit of mail, they are still admirably protected but will not tire as quickly now. With Swiss morale and formation integrity failing under hours of Hungarian missile volleys, Andrew attacks. The heavy infantry slam through the gaps in the Swiss halberds, hacking at the mountaineers at close range. It takes less than fifteen minutes for the fresh Hungarians to rout the exhausted Swiss. The remnants of the Swiss army is hunted down by the still mounted light cavalry. No prisoners are taken.

At sea, the Venetian fleet encounters a Dalmatian flotilla of forty five galleys off Pola. Emulating the purxiphoi, nine of the Venetian galleys are equipped with one or two light guns stationed in the bow. None of the Dalmatian vessels have cannon. The Venetians, trusting in the offensive power of their gun galleys, attack fiercely. Their cannons, although too light to inflict structural damage on the Dalmatian ships, shatter woodwork above the deck, sending splinters flying that wreak a terrible toll on the Dalmatian sailors. The battle lasts for over three hours, the Dalmatians fighting obstinately, but the Venetians win a total victory, sinking or capturing sixteen Dalmatian ships, not including five transports heavily loaded with rations and ammunition for the Hungarian army.

Despite his great victory at Treviso, Andrew’s situation is potentially perilous. He has adequate stores for the moment but taking Venice will likely be a long and complicated affair and extremely difficult without a large fleet. Also with his naval supply line largely cut after Pola, he is dependent on the overland route now. Italy itself can supply his artillery with adequate powder and shot but rations for his men are more difficult to procure. Plus if he advances on Venice the Milanese army is ideally situated at Verona to swing behind and cut off his land supply route. So Andrew decides to halt offensive operations for the rest of the year. His time is spent arranging treaties with Bulgaria and the Blue Horde so that Bulgarian and Ukrainian grain will feed Hungary the next year while Hungarian grain is shipped west to feed his army.

Western Europe is also engulfed in war. In May the English army commanded by King Edward VI seizes Paris after a siege that lasted a mere eleven days. The main reason for his quick success is the English siege train, relying heavily on gunpowder artillery and considered by many to be the finest in Europe. It is closely followed by the Burgundian train while the comparatively new Roman model is not considered in the running.

The siege train is managed by the Bourne brothers, who turned the branch into a model of efficiency. Instead of the older practice of hiring gun masters who brought with them crews and guns who were usually hired for a campaign at varying rates of pay, the Bourne brothers establish standardized rates of pay for the various members of the gun crews, who are hired for five year stints. Also to ease ammunition supply issues, the English cannons are reduced to four distinct calibers instead of the earlier hodgepodge, and those guns are equipped with stone, rather than lead or iron, cannonballs for cost purposes. In addition, the process of corning gunpowder is introduced, which increases the propulsive power of the powder and improves its shelf life.

English Normandy soon becomes the center of gunpowder production for the English artillery. The main advantage of corned powder over its meal-type predecessor at its earliest stage of development is its shelf life. No longer are English armies required to carry the ingredients and equipment to make gunpowder on site. For security reasons and to help secure a royal monopoly on gunpowder weapons, the corned powder is constructed next to royal barracks that garrison the various Norman towns. Since the urine of wine and/or strong beer drinkers is a component in the corning process (1), the need to collect the urine for powder manufacturing significantly boosts sanitation levels in the English barracks.

1) I am not making this up. For more, see Bert S. Hall, Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe, and Kelly DeVries, “Gunpowder and Early Gunpowder Weapons”.

With the combined English-Burgundian artillery trains arrayed against them, French fortresses are rarely able to hold out for long. Edward and Louis gradually push their way south, slowly expanding their territories in order to ease integration. Edward takes special care to be diplomatic, avoiding pillaging and renewing French town charters without charging a special fee, and making sure to pay for all goods and services he requires. He can do all this due to the combination of several excellent English harvests in a row, the good relations with Burgundy which controls the Low countries and the main market for English wool, and his good relations with Parliament which make little fuss in providing subsidies for the continually victorious king.

Sub-Saharan Africa, c. 1415

Subsharan Africa c. 1415

The Swahili coast is mostly under the control of the Kilwa Sultanate, and is not appreciably different from OTL. The main exception is the city of Sofala, which is completely independent of the Sultanate (breaking free after an incident in 1335) but is a vassal of Great Zimbabwe. Both the Sofala state and the Kilwa Sultanate are highly urbanized societies dependent on trade, with connections in India.

Mali, Songhai, and Timbuktu are all tributary states of the premier power in west Africa, the Jolof Empire. It is heavily inspired by its imperial predecessors in the region and borrows liberally from some of their practices. For instance, all gold nuggets are the property of the Jolof Emperor and have to be exchanged for an equivalent weight in gold dust. For administrative purposes, the Emperor prefers vassalage to direct rule. To help maintain authority, one out of every six horses transported into the region belong to him as a toll, allowing the Emperors to maintain a formidable cavalry corps equipped with thick cloth armor and armed with maces and spears. The Jolof are pagan, but Muslims are allowed freedom of worship and play a major part in the administration.

The eastern border of the Jolof Empire is Lake Chad, where the Sultanate of Yao begins. Established at roughly the same time as Jolof, around 1350, the Sultanate is ruled by the Bulala people who overthrew the Kanem Empire to establish their own state. They carry on substantial trade with Egypt and its authority stretches to Kurdufan in the Sudan. To the east of that is a mix of minor principalities, a blend of pagan, Christian, and Muslim states, which stretches to the western border of Ethiopia. While Yao, already having difficulty maintaining control over its border provinces, is not a threat, the states are in peril. That threat is the Shilluk migration, who are moving north because of attacks from the Funj.

The last major state in sub-Saharan Africa is the Kingdom of Kongo, currently a pagan state that is much more centralized than most other African empires. Its only major threat at the point is its rivalry with the Luba Empire to the interior. Despite its fancier title, Luba is militarily weaker than Kongo. However protected by distance from large-scale attacks, the Luba stage frequent raids on the eastern provinces. The Kongolese army usually responds with counter-raids, and the captives netted in the raids are used to fuel a thriving slave trade. Kongolese slave traders are the main source of slaves for the minor states neighboring the Kingdom such as Ngoyo, providing the Kongolese kings substantial revenue from export duties on slaves.


1) Duchy of Burgundy
2) Bernese League
3) County of Saluzzo
4) County of Nice​

Despite its small size, Aragon is a relatively powerful state. Its merchants can be seen in Antwerp and Alexandria, and its capital of Barcelona is the largest city in Catholic Europe outside of Italy. The dual monarchy of Aragon and Sicily is a somewhat complicated structure, and will be explained more fully in the next update. Aragon also inherited Navarre in 1325, while the Principality of Andorra never came into existence. As for France, most of the fighting is in the northern areas, with the result that largely undamaged Provence is become quite influential in French affairs.​

1417 continued: Due to the continuing Ninety Years War, foreign participation in the crusade against the Marinids is extremely limited, with the Swedes actually being the largest contributors outside of the Iberians themselves (Originally Sweden had sided with Rome in the Schism, but joined the Avignon camp in 1400 to improve relations with Denmark). This actually turns into a source of strength as there are no large foreign contingents hampering uniformity of discipline, unlike earlier expeditions. In May Portuguese, Castilian, and Aragonese armies all march south, well equipped and supplied because of generous subsidies from the Iberian clergy and the Avignon pope Gregory XII.

The Marinids are not in as good of shape. Over the past several years tensions have been building between the Marinid elite, with their power concentrated in the cities of northern Morocco, the chief of which is Sijilmasa, and Granada, and the Berber chieftains of the interior. The Sheik of Touggourt is just one example of this. With the drop in relations, the chieftains have been lax in their duties of guarding the trans-Sahara trade in gold, salt, and slaves, a major source of Marinid income, which has therefore been suffering from Tuareg raids. As a result, much of the Marinid army is stationed in the southern marches when the Iberians invade the north.

The crusade begins on a good note, when all three Iberian armies score victories over outnumbered Marinid detachments. The largest battle, the battle of Consuegra, is fought by the Castilians and leaves four thousand Marinids dead on the field. It is the first offensive victory scored by the Castilians against the Marinids in over sixty years. The main reason for Castilian success, beside a numerical superiority of almost 2.5 to 1, is the military reforms of King Ferdinand. He uses the large reserves of cash made available to him for the crusade to award acts of bravery, which improves Castilian morale and daring. He also works to coordinate the actions of the Castilian cavalry and light infantry, the fearsome almughavars, copies of the Aragonese troop type.

In June he begins the siege of Calatrava, throwing up entrenchments as he brings his artillery train, a mixed cannon-trebuchet force, into range. As soon as all of his pieces are in position, he unleashes the heaviest artillery barrage ever seen in Iberian history up to that point with a train of eighty nine guns. Not even the volleys fired during the siege of Toledo in 1399 can compare. Bombards smash at the walls while the trebuchets hurl incendiary bombs over them and into the city, forcing the garrison to fight the Castilians in the front and fire in the rear.

With the horrendous screams of the cannonballs flying overhead, morale quickly diminishes in the city. Desperate, one of the garrison soldiers allows himself to be captured so that he can make an attempt to kill Ferdinand. When he tries to get an audience with the king, his poisoned dagger is discovered and he is cut to pieces on the spot as an assassin. The body parts are thrown back into the city with the next trebuchet volley. After three weeks of intensive bombardment, a deputation of citizens convinces the garrison to surrender. Ferdinand is not in a merciful mood, setting an extremely high ransom price which most of the citizens cannot pay. Those who can’t are sold into slavery.

Determined to press his advantage, Ferdinand installs a garrison, brings up more supplies, and then marches on Alarcos. Meanwhile the Aragonese have taken Castello de la Plana and are moving to attack Murviedro. If they can take that city, the Aragonese will have reestablished a land link between Catalonia and their Valencian enclave. The Portuguese, who have the smallest artillery train out of the three Iberian states, have not had as much success. Their main force is stalled in the siege of Alcacer do Sal.

If Ferdinand can take Alarcos, he will be able to invade the Guadalquivir river valley, the backbone of Muslim Spain. Three of the four largest Muslim cities lie on or near the river, Cordoba, Seville, and Cadiz. The fourth city is Granada. He begins the investment of Alarcos on July 10, ordering the guns to continue firing day and night. However he soon receives ominous news; the main Marinid army has landed in Malaga and is marching north.

Part of the strategy for the crusade had involved a naval blockade of Granada, to prevent the Marinids crossing over from Africa to Europe. Aragon and Portugal had provided the ships, along with a squadron of six vessels from Sweden. However since the nearest support bases for the blockaders are Lisbon and Valencia, their coverage is spotty. On July 6 a storm scatters the Portuguese fleet, driving several vessels far to the southwest. Three eventually make landfall in an archipelago which the sailors call Madeira. After making repairs and gathering provisions, the three ships return to Lisbon bringing news of their discovery. In a gesture of defiance to the Marinid tide, the Kings of Portugal have continued to maintain that city as their capital despite its position at the front lines.

Despite the brevity of the siege, the undersupplied Alarcos garrison is in poor shape when the Marinid army lands at Malaga with all its provisions, powder, shot, and artillery train, which had previously been stored in Melilla. Because Alarcos cannot hold out for much longer, the Marinid soldiers are ordered to quickly unload their supplies and powder, leaving them and the artillery stored in waterfront warehouses. Since the warehouses are not large enough to accommodate all of the supplies, many cases, including several barrels of powder, are placed under canvas awnings next to the buildings. Portuguese spies are aware of this, relaying the information to Lisbon as the Marinid host races northward with a bare minimum of supplies. They also take most of the Malaga garrison in the hopes that the sheer size of the Muslim force will compel the Castilians to disengage.

Ferdinand is not so easily frightened. Assuming that the Marinids will be slowed down by their sizeable supply and artillery train, he continues pummeling Alarcos. However he has not broken the garrison’s resistance when jinetes, the Iberian light cavalry, report that the Marinids are just a few days away, over a week earlier than expected. Outnumbered almost two to one, the Castilians hurriedly move the guns from their siege positions to defend the camp, throwing up entrenchments and earthen embankments.

When they are done, the Castilian camp resembles a miniature city. The Marinids encamp for the night to the south on August 2 but at dawn the next day, they immediately attack. Accustomed to beating Christians, the Marinids rush at the embankments, manned by ranks of silent, grim Iberians. Standing next to them are the Swedish crusaders, led by Olaf Tordsson. A six foot seven inch giant bedecked in plate, he served in Scotland as a mercenary in 1406-1410. He wields a claymore one-handed.

The Marinids launch a three-pronged attack on the Castilian camp, shouting and banging their shields and spears together. Still there is silence from the Castilians as the Moors charge, eating up the ground. Closer they come, and still nothing. One hundred meters, seventy five, fifty. Knights grip their lances, almughavars their javelins. Behind them the snorting horses of the Knights of Santiago stand around their sovereign. Thirty meters, still no sound from the Christian lines. Twenty meters, Ferdinand raises the Banner of Castile. The world explodes.

Every single gun fires virtually simultaneously, the sound itself physically staggering some of the men, immediately casting a cloud of smoke over the battlefield. All along the line, the crusaders brace, expecting Marinid soldiers to come screaming out of the fog. Nothing happens. It takes five minutes before the powder smoke clears enough for the crusaders to see the carnage. The head of every single attacking column has been obliterated. Positioned on top of shallow packed-earth embankments, the angle of the Castilian shots had caused the cannonballs to skip across the hard ground, scything through the Marinid ranks. Also where the cannonballs struck were lots of loose rocks and gravel, which were also sent flying at tremendous speeds, adding to the wave of shrapnel that smashed flat almost four thousand Marinids in one terrible instance.

To the rear, the remainder are regrouping. The almughavars climb over the embankment, standing near the top of the forward slope so they can loose their javelins just as the Moorish soldiers start to climb. Once the smoke has completely cleared, the Marinids immediately charge, racing to meet the Castilian lines while the cannons reload; their war cry is now a howl of rage. The almughavars hurl their javelins into the leading ranks, scrabbling up the embankments under the cover of crossbow volleys. The first Marinid to reach the top, a lightly armored Tuareg, does so in front of the Swedes. Olaf’s claymore clefts him in two, vertically.

All along the line the shock is tremendous, each side evenly matched as Marinid numbers are countered by Castilian fortifications. Dismounted knights wade into the fray, smashing at the enemy with almughavars flanking them, using their javelins as spears. Ramparts of Marinid dead begin to pile up alongside the Christian slain, but still more men pour into the fray. Crossbowmen from makeshift bastions pour bolts into the waves of Marinids coming up to reinforce the front ranks. Then the smaller Castilian guns, one by one, begin to sound, roaring enfilading fire into the Marinid echelons, kicking up more loose rocks that crack armor and break bones in addition to their own lethal shot.

A cheer goes up at the far left; the Marinids have taken one of the gun batteries, positioned on a small hill. The Marinid soldiers quickly begin moving the guns to fire on the crusader camp while others start picking up crossbows from the slain. With an earth shattering bellow Olaf and his Swedes come roaring up the knoll. One of the Marinid soldiers with a crossbow slams a bolt in Olaf’s chest. It slows him down for about one second. In clear view of both armies, Olaf, with the crossbow bolt visibly protruding from his chest, grabs the soldier, lifts him above his head, and hurls him off the embankment. The remaining Marinid soldiers there are cut to pieces.

Marinid morale shatters. They do not want to fight this army, with its fiendishly lethal artillery and its apparently immortal giant. The Marinids flee back to their camp, crossbow bolts and cannonballs speeding them on their way. A few squadron of jinetes harass their departure with darts but withdraw before coming too close to the Marinid encampment. The battle had lasted for just under two hours, with a death toll of three thousand crusaders and fourteen thousand Marinids.

Once the Marinids are gone, Olaf strips off his armor. The crossbow bolt had struck an angled facet of his cuirass, penetrated it, the chainmail shirt under it, the padded wool-silk gambeson under that, and barely nicked his skin. The wound does not even leave a scar. Ferdinand himself thanks Olaf for his critical role in the defense, granting him an annual subsidy of 2,000 Castilian ducats for the rest of his life.

Despite the tremendous victory, the Castilian army is still in peril. In spite of the lopsided casualty ratios, the Marinids still have a numerical advantage, with their Berber light cavalry beginning to make attempts on the crusader supply line, which are kept open only with difficulty. Ferdinand is extremely reluctant to abandon the siege, since with the Marinid army in the area he would be forced to leave his magnificent artillery train, which he had only been able to finance with the church’s support.

So he sends messengers to both the Aragonese and the Portuguese, asking them to make demonstrations against the Marinid lines so that he does not have to abandon Alarcos, arguing that ‘Alarcos is key to the Guadalquivir, and the Guadalquivir is key to driving the Moor forever from Iberia’. The Aragonese have taken Murviedro, establishing a land link with Valencia, and are now marching on Cartagena, the nearest major Marinid port. While the Aragonese advance is a threat, the Marinids recognize that the Castilians are the greater danger. Meanwhile the Portuguese have taken Alcacer do Sal, but since their stores of cannonballs are running low, they are unwilling to advance further. To fight the Marinids, the Portuguese King Pedro I decides to try another tactic. On August 11, two Portuguese cargo vessels and twenty men sail from Lisbon under the cover of night. Their destination: Malaga.

In the evening of August 20, the two Portuguese vessels, the Sao Maria and the Sao Gabriel, sail into Malaga harbor, flying Marinid banners with the crew dressed in Marinid uniforms, posing as Portuguese from the Algarve in Marinid service. The skeleton crew of customs agents, depleted by the withdrawal of most of the Malaga garrison, conducts a quick inspection and is paid off with a bribe (a common practice amongst Marinid customs agents).

Spotting the unmistakable signs of Marinid guns stored under canvas, the Portuguese ships anchor as close as possible to the cannons. The powder is stored nearby, clustered around the overfilled wooden warehouses. By this point it is after dusk. Just after 7:00 PM both ships explode; the sailors had ignited the two hundred and twenty tons of gunpowder stored in the holds, covered under crates of fruit and Flemish textiles. None of them live to see the immense fireballs that rocket above Malaga, a second sun blazing over the city. As the thunderclap rocks the startled city, flaming debris showers the waterfront and ignites some of the outdoor powder barrels. The warehouse behind them detonates, another fireball racing upward to join the fading originals. Then the depot to the east explodes, then another, a long row of secondary explosions as each warehouse detonation sets off its neighbor.

By the time the seventh and final fireball issues forth, it is bright as day as the entire dockyard is in flames. Stores of pitch and canvas, kept to service visiting ships, fuel the inferno, which races northward to the city itself. All across Malaga the muezzins sound, calling the faithful not to prayers but to arms, to battle the roaring curtain of fire that would outshine the sun. It is the sound of a city in agony.

The call of the muezzins and the screams of the terrified inhabitants are soon drowned out by the crackling roar of the immense flames. Scattered by the debris from the explosions, fueled by gunpowder and pitch, the fire is almost a mile long less than twenty minutes after its birth. Hunger and a light sea breeze push it forward toward the city, devouring everything in its path. According to accounts, some of the people futilely attempting to battle the blaze are picked up and carried into the infernos by the winds created by the firestorm’s demands for oxygen. To the north, startled peasants look to the southern horizon, wondering at the sight. The horizon is glowing. By 8:30 PM, the fire slams into the great stone walls of the city, which hold it inside the city, devouring virtually every street, every building, every body it can find.

By morning, Malaga is no more. A charred wasteland filled with the bones of the twenty thousand dead is what remains. The cannons stored at the waterfront are now solidified pools of metal; the bronze and iron barrels had melted. With the city went most of the provisions for the main Marinid army, and all of its pay. That too had been melted; along the quay the few dazed survivors can step in puddles of gold.

When news of the disaster reaches Alarcos, Marinid morale is crushed. When the officers begin planning for a second attack on the Castilian camp, the men mutiny, demanding that the army retreat to the Guadalquivir (many of the men are from the river valley and want to protect their families from the new Christian weapon-the Marinids are still unsure on how Malaga was destroyed) and that they be paid. With little choice, the Marinid officers consent and the army retreats southward. On September 5 Alarcos capitulates to the Castilians.

It is the end of combat operations for the year. Ferdinand is busy rebuilding the fortress of Alarcos, buttressing the walls with earthen embankments. The Aragonese, due to lack of supplies, abandon the siege of Cartagena and retreat back to Valencia with their artillery. The Portuguese remain at Alcacer do Sal; they have no powder with which to prosecute sieges. And the Marinids remain on the defensive at the Guadalquivir, shifting through the wreckage of Malaga, trying to find out how one of their greatest ports was wiped out in the space of a single night.

1418: Although the crusade is still on, the war in Iberia is largely stalled. The Portuguese exhausted their reserves of gunpowder in the suicide attack on Malaga and are working to replenish them. Meanwhile the families of each of the ‘Malaga martyrs’ is given a stipend by each of the Iberian kings and all of the sons of the two captains are ennobled. The Castilians remain in Alarcos, holding position as Ferdinand also rebuilds his stockpile of powder and shot and orders the forging of more light guns. The smaller weapons, firing balls of no more than twenty five pounds, are his favorite due to their role in defending the camp at Alarcos. They are also used in concert with the larger cannons; the large guns smash open the breaches in the wall while the light guns hammer the area to prevent repair work while the large weapons reload.

However none of the Iberian states are idle. Portuguese and Aragonese vessels prowl the Straits of Gibraltar, pouncing on any Marinid vessels they find. There are three minor naval battles, none involving cannon, the Christians winning two. Meanwhile squadrons of jinetes and mounted almughavars basing from Alarcos raid the Guadalquivir valley, skirmishing with the Berber cavalry sent to oppose them. Overall the battles are a draw.

At the same time Marinid Africa is abuzz with activity. In all the cities of north Africa one can hear the sound of hammers striking anvils as blacksmiths forge weapons for the grunting young men drilling under the glare of sergeants. Waves of young Berber tribesmen, eager for adventure and gold, pour into the cities as caravans speed southward across the Sahara, purchasing slaves from the Jolof Empire to further bolster the gathering Marinid host.

Genoa is a major help to the Marinids in this, pouring war materials, particularly timber, canvas, and pitch for shipbuilding into its port of Tunis. Many Marinids had favored wiping out this Christian enclave in the past, but the Marrakesh sultans had always stayed their hand. Their wisdom is clearly shown as the Genoese are more than willing to sell weapons that will kill their Aragonese rivals, even if the wielders are infidels. They continue this traffic even after both the Avignon and Rome popes denounce it, Andrea Alessi remarking that “gold has no religion.”

The enclave at Oran is in a more precarious position. Considered to be a part of the Sicilian domain of the Aragonese crown, it is administered by Sicilian magistrates and frequented by Sicilian merchants. The decentralized nature of the dualistic Aragonese-Sicilian monarchy is what saves Oran. For while the Marinids are at war with Jaime V, King of Aragon and King of Sicily, they are only at war with his Aragonese dominions, not his Sicilian territories. So at the moment, Sicilian coin is financing Aragonese armies and fleets, but Sicilian manpower and vessels are not reinforcing them. An attack on Oran would be a declaration of war on Sicily and would bring those forces into play.

The near independence of Sicily in the Aragonese domain, which is a collection of autonomous kingdoms united by a common monarch, is the end result of the need for the House of Barcelona to conciliate the Sicilians. Invited in to drive away the Angevins, tensions had increased after the War of the Sicilian Vespers as the king Martin I (1306-1325) tried to rule Sicily as a personal domain. Sicily was rife with discontent under his rule, with some factions contemplating inviting Genoa or even the Roman Empire to take over the island instead.

Martin’s successor, Jaime III (1325-1348), instituted the reforms that turned Sicily into a virtually independent state. Granting the Sicilians complete independence in internal affairs upon payment of certain taxes and tolls, foreign affairs remained in Barcelona’s hands. The one exception was the declaration of war. The Sicilian Cortes had to approve any declaration made by Aragon for it to have effect in Sicilian domains, and they were under no obligation to do so, although they were obligated to allow their ports to be used as naval bases during an Aragonese war. The Sicilians could not however issue a separate declaration of war, but could merely confirm or deny a pending Aragonese declaration. This proviso, although extremely aggravating to Barcelona, had been demanded by and granted to the Sicilians, who did not want to be drawn into a long foreign war after the terrible bloodshed of the War of the Sicilian Vespers.

The Sicilian Cortes essentially is the government of Sicily. Comprised of Sicilian nobles, wealthy burghers, chief clergy, and representatives of the towns of Sicily (chief of which are Palermo, Messina, and Agrigento) they are the ones that lay down the laws and tax codes of the island, not the King. Every year the King is to receive a certain amount of payment each year, and beyond that a certain percentage (5-20%) of each tax and toll, with the percentage of land taxes being higher since at the time, central Mediterranean trade was being routed through Bari, Tunis, and Naples and Sicilian tolls did not look very profitable. However this helped spurred investment in trade and now Sicily is home to a thriving merchant class with Palermo a major port, four-fifths the size of Barcelona.

The nobles and burghers are descended from families that played major roles in the War of the Sicilian Vespers. Their positions in the Cortes are inheritable, but every member has to pay a sizeable installation fee to the King. In the event of a vacancy, the King chooses the replacement (who still has to pay the fee) but their choice has to be a native Sicilian. The Cortes oversees the courts of Sicily, but any Sicilian citizen has the right to appeal to the King.

The sound of war also comes from east Africa, as the Emperor Yekuno and the Imam al-Ghazi finally meet in battle for the first time at Ziway on April 4. For the last few years the war had consisted of low level skirmishing, neither side able to gain a decisive advantage. The two armies are evenly matched numerically; al-Ghazi’s Adalese veteran core is buttressed by feudal Ethiopian regiments commanded by noble defectors, fleeing Yekuno’s centralizing trends. The Adalese launch a fierce attack on the Ethiopian left wing, but are savaged by crossbow bolts.

The weapon is a new feature of the Ethiopian arsenal, designed by the Roman artisans in Yekuno’s service. To maintain a corps of crossbowmen, Yekuno took the bold step of recruiting simple farmers, not part of the soldier class, and using them to form a crossbow militia. They are provided a crossbow and bolts and are required to show up at local drill grounds twice a month to practice, but receive a small tax exemption and the opportunity to serve in the army with pay.

Despite their slow rate of fire, the weapons are brutally effective against the lightly armored Adalese troops, the bolts ripping through their light shields and killing or wounding the men behind them. The ferocious, irresistible onslaught that is al-Ghazi’s main battle tactic is blunted by the Ethiopian crossbowmen, who are supported by Ethiopian light infantry who fight with javelins and saber-like swords.

About two hours into the battle, some of al-Ghazi’s Ethiopian reserves defect back to Yekuno. With the morale of his troops wavering, the Imam moves near the front lines to encourage them. A crossbow bolt pierces his neck while atop his horse; he is dead before he hits the ground. Yekuno immediately sends in his Royal Guard, squadrons of horsemen protected with thick gambesons and wielding lancers and sabers, who pulverize the Adalese flanks. They break.

The result is a slaughter. Chased by the Ethiopian Royal Guard, the Adalese are cut down in droves. Some of their officers attempt to reorganize their men, but the Royal Guard is supported by squadrons of mounted crossbowmen who dismount to shoot. Every forming pocket of resistance is ripped apart by crossbow quarrels. Many of the Ethiopian defectors surrender, but while Yekuno accepts those of the men, he shows no mercy to officers and nobles who betrayed him and Ethiopia. Their severed heads join those of the Adalese soldiers.

Yekuno’s casualties are respectable but not crippling, and some of his losses are made up by Ethiopians defecting back to him. They are incorporated into his army, but are split up amongst loyal units and do not receive a share in the post-battle loot. After a three day rest period, the Ethiopian army immediately marches on Harar, the second city of the Sultanate of Adal after its capital Zeila. Despite its small garrison, the wealthy and populous city puts up a ferocious resistance, despite the fact that relief is extremely unlikely with the disintegration of the main Adalese army. Although Yekuno is determined, that is not enough. The success of the siege is due to Petros Phokas, one of the Roman artisans and a siege engineer who supervises the construction of five counterweight trebuchets which pummel Harar’s walls. After two weeks of bombardment by all five weapons and a siege of six weeks, the city surrenders.

A month later, Adal comes to terms with Ethiopia. Despite al-Ghazi’s brilliant early victories, the strain of taking on the significantly larger Christian state had utterly exhausted the Sultanate in both money and manpower. The Ethiopian defectors had lengthened Adal’s ability to fight, but it had not been enough. By 1418 al-Ghazi was the only thing keeping Adal’s will to fight alive. With his death, it died as well. In the peace, Ethiopia regains all its lost territory, plus Harar. Yekuno places the Somali city directly under his control, installing a royal garrison paid for by custom duties and replacing Muslim settlers with Christian inhabitants. While the population drop does lessen its commercial importance for a time, its strategic location on important local caravan routes allows Yekuno many opportunities to levy tolls and taxes.

As war dies down in Africa, it intensifies in Italy as Andrew III reenters the Veneto in April. After the battle of Treviso, the guns shelling Venice had been withdrawn back to Treviso along with the main Hungarian army, although throughout the winter squadrons of hussars had prowled the banks of the lagoon, ambushing anyone within reach. As a result Venice has had to rely entirely on its fleet to maintain communications with the mainland. Over the winter the Republic has purchased more cannons from any available seller with the use of more forced loans and extraordinary taxes, and installing them in towers sighted to fire on the previously used positions of Hungarian artillery.

As a result the Hungarian army gets a warm welcome when it arrives on the banks of the lagoon on April 20, but not enough to deter Andrew. He has ample supply reserves and numerous squadrons of hussars to guard his west flank against a Milanese attack. Without a respectable fleet his hope is that he can bomb the Venetians into accepting his peace terms, which are that Venice will cede all its territories in Dalmatia, Istria, and Italy (except for the lagoon itself) to Hungary and become a vassal state. With the failure of his bid to become Holy Roman Emperor, Andrew is contemplating the title ‘King of Italy’ as a consolation prize. The capitulation of Venice would be the first step to that goal.

During the month of May the Hungarians and Venetians trade cannonballs. To compensate for their firepower inferiority, Venetian vessels land elite corps of marines on the mainland at night which attempt to spike the guns. During the first raid they succeed brilliantly, wrecking four guns, including a bombard firing one hundred pound balls, with only one casualty from a crossbow bolt. After that, the strikes become much more chancy and deadly due to increased hussar patrols. Casualties on both sides are heavy.

As the siege of Venice drags into June, Andrew decides to seek more naval forces to bolster that of the battered Dalmatians. First he turns to the Roman Empire, where Demetrios and Manuel give him a polite but firm refusal. With a war weary populace, a shaky treasury, and the new theme of Italia to integrate into the Empire, the Emperors have no desire for foreign entanglements.

Also on the eastern frontier, Turkmen raids are becoming more frequent. Osman II is busy building up his forces to attack Gilan and the Jalayirids, concentrating his efforts on the richer and more populous southern half of Mesopotamia, which did not receive as much ‘attention’ from Timur. As a result the northern Turkmen, who view themselves as ghazis, have not been effectively leashed by Baghdad after the restoration of Ottoman rule. Their attacks are concentrated in Armenia, where the fighting is savage as many of the locals remember that those Turkmen had often served in Timur’s army and participated eagerly in the warlord’s atrocities.

Another state Andrew approaches is the Republic of Pisa. While territorially puny, Pisa is one of the richest states in Europe, with a navy and merchant marine second only to Venice and Genoa. Due to its extremely good relations with the Papacy, much of Pisa’s wealth is derived from transporting pilgrims who are encouraged by the clergy to seek Pisan passage. From Pisa, pilgrims can sail to Barcelona as part of their journey to Santiago de Compostela or to the holy land. Due to a special arrangement with Constantinople, Pisan transports en route to Outremer stop for supplies in Attaleia, bringing much business into the port.

One on one, Pisa cannot match Venice even in its weakened state, but combined with the remaining Dalmatian vessels, its chances of victory would be high. However Pisa is more concerned with its closer commercial rival of Genoa, which is kept in balance by Venice. While the destruction of the Serene Republic would benefit Pisa, it would likely benefit Genoa more. Also Pisa has been having some border disputes both with Lucca and with the Florentines, and wants to keep its forces close to home in case war breaks out.

Genoa is the last available option, capable of challenging Venice even at her height and eager for her destruction. At the moment though the Marinids are offering up to triple the market price for shipbuilding materials (North Africa has plenty of gold but not timber), provided their transport is expedited. As a result much of the Genoese merchant marine is occupied pouring those goods into Tunis. However those shipments have to be well guarded to protect against Hospitalier warships, which have been raiding the Marinid coast and who have no compunction against attacking those they see as traitors to Christendom. Also there is the possibility that Aragon-Sicily might declare war on Genoa to stop the traffic, and in that war there is no doubt that Sicily will join. So Genoa’s flotillas will remain in the western Mediterranean.

Even with the Hungarian failure to procure a fleet, the situation for the Venetians is perilous. With the roar of cannons, sleep in the city is impossible, especially after several local fishermen are suborned by the Hungarians into starting fires in the parts of the city outside of the Hungarian artillery’s range. While the plot fails, it only increases the tension in the city, with political and commercial rivals claiming their opponents are Hungarian collaborators. The old doge, Francesco Lando, is able to keep the muttering, fearful populace focused on defending the city, but it is obvious that their will to fight is crumbling.

Food shipments are also a problem. With a hostile Dalmatia and the Romans and Genoese dominating the Anatolian, Bulgarian, and Black sea grain trade, Egypt is the only available granary for the Republic. However Dalmatian privateers prowl the Adriatic; too weak to take on the Venetian fleet, they ambush isolated Venetian merchantmen and grain transports. With options dwindling, Francesco Lando turns to the one man who can save Venice, Vlad Musat.

The Kingdom of Hungary, one of the largest and most powerful states in Europe, has one major flaw, the continual running sore that is Vlachia. Except for Transylvania, the region is not quite a Hungarian vassal or province, but a repeatedly extorted satellite. Every time one of the Vlach statelets has attempted to consolidate the area, Hungarian forces led by the voivode of Transylvania have squashed the maneuver.

However tensions are also rising in once loyal Transylvania. Andrew III, fond of war and conquests, is also a loyal son of the Catholic church. In 1413 he issued the Decree of Cluj, whereby the nobility was restricted to Catholics only. Orthodox nobles, common in Transylvania, had to either convert or forfeit their lands and titles (Many had emigrated from Vlachia in the early and mid 1300s and pledged fealty to Buda, keeping their Orthodox faith in the process and followed by many Orthodox Vlach peasants). Most converted after the issue of the decree, but still practice Orthodoxy in secret, inspired by the gleaming example of Constantinople. Also taxes on Orthodox peasants were increased, both in an effort to convert and to help fund Andrew’s wars. Taxes on Catholic peasants were also raised, although not as much. While the burghers of Transylvania, mainly German immigrants making up about a quarter of the population, are loyal to Buda, the rest is increasingly not.

In Vlachia proper, the flame of Vlach resistance to Hungarian incursions and exactions is fanned by news from the Roman Empire. Many Vlach officers had served with distinction during the War of the Five Emperors and Timur’s invasions and been publicly commemorated. The most famous is Dragos cel Mare, a name known to every Vlach child. His cavalry charge at Manzikert is already a legend. Accustomed to losing at war, the example of the Dragon of Constantinople and other Roman Vlachs show that they can be victorious, giving the Vlach people a new sense of hope.

That new sense of hope is fostered by Vlad Musat, a minor nobleman from Bessarabia determined to drive the Hungarians out once and for all. Leading small bands of volunteers, he has won several small victories against Hungarian detachments through ambushes and guerrilla warfare over the past several years. With each victory he grows more popular and more volunteers flock to his standard. With Andrew distracted by his Italian war, Vlad’s cause has been growing momentum as noblemen and peasants alike pledge their fealty to him.

However the sheer size of Vlad’s movement by this point makes it a clear target for the Hungarians. Normally the voivode of Transylvania would have assembled the veteran forces of the eastern march and crushed the uprising. However the voivode, Gabriel Dobozi, a Catholic Vlach, is married to Vlad’s first cousin, a famed raven-haired beauty. His previous wife, Theodora Laskaris, second daughter of Thomas Laskaris, had died in childbirth along with the baby in 1415. Because of his wife’s very strong influence over him, Gabriel has been drifting away from Buda.

Due to Cluj his people are leaning towards Vlad as well as opposed to Buda. That the main exception are the Germans only encourages the remaining Transylvanians to favor Vlad. The German burghers as a class are the object of intense hatred, as they dominate commercial and mining activities, the most lucrative businesses, and vigorously and collectively squash any non-German competition. Even potential opponents, such as prosperous peasants wanting to invest in the grain trade, are ruthlessly sidelined and typically ruined. They are able to do so because the Buda-appointed judges always side with the Germans, since Andrew gains massive amount of revenue from mining duties.

On May 20, the city of Targoviste, the largest city in Vlachia, capitulates to Vlad’s army without a fight. The next day he is crowned King of Vlachia to the rejoicing of the populace. As he marches west several units of the eastern march, the Hungarian forces responsible for cowing the Vlachs, who are composed of Transylvanian soldiers, renounce their nominal Catholicism, revert back to the Orthodox faiths of their fathers they had never truly left, and defect to Vlad.

Initially there is a great amount of tension between the two groups who have fought often. While the Vlachs are more numerous, the Transylvanians are much better equipped and trained. Vlad knows that in a fight, the latter are more likely to win, but that he needs both in order to have a chance of challenging Andrew. There are two items available that are common to both parties, their hatred of Catholicism and their idolization of Dragos cel Mare, the most famous Vlach up to that point. Vlad draws on both elements to unify his disparate army.

On June 5, Gabriel Dobozi joins them. He converts to Orthodoxy alongside his wife (she had ‘converted’ to Catholicism before her wedding) and publicly proclaims Vlad as ‘King of Vlachia, Prince of Transylvania’. He urges all Transylvanians to support their rightful sovereign and not the usurper Andrew. The result is civil war as the Germans refuse and are immediately attacked by the Transylvanians, who are soon joined by Vlad’s army reinforced by marcher formations.

The slaughter is terrible as the German population is systematically annihilated, years of pent up religious and class rage erupting in a mass atrocity. Families are cut down where they stand even in surrender, their bodies dumped into mass graves. A common practice of Vlad is to load German prisoners onto barges and then use them as target practice for his artillery. He had acquired numerous culverins, light guns firing five to fifteen pound shot used to defend fortresses, and pressed them into field service.

The German survivors of the massacre flee westward, meeting up with marcher regiments composed of ethnic Hungarians which had remained loyal to Andrew. Vlad challenges them near Gyalu on July 2. Since most of his force is underequipped and untrained, Vlad fights a defensive battle, drawing the wagons of his supply train into a ring, a fortress on wheels. From behind the wagons, crossbowmen snipe the Hungarian horse archers while the culverins hammer them with shot, while halberds and cleavers are used to cut apart anyone attempting to storm the wagon laager. After four assaults spread out over the afternoon, which cost the Hungarians dearly, they retire from the field, fleeing westward. However the next day the rearguard is ambushed and cut to pieces. Many Hungarians and Germans are taken prisoner, but they are too poor to be worth ransoming. To deter further Hungarian attacks, Vlad finds a large field next to the road to Buda and has them all impaled, some twenty three hundred prisoners.

After the battle of Gyalu, Vlad formally establishes Targoviste as the capital of the new Vlach state, sending envoys to the Roman Empire, Poland, Serbia, and Bulgaria to proclaim his succession. The Poles, angry with Andrew because of a border dispute over Bartfa, a moderately sized and well fortified city with a Slovakian population currently under Hungarian rule, almost immediately recognize the Vlach state. The remainder send back polite but noncommittal replies.

Throughout his campaign, Vlad had been helped by Venetian subsidies, paid by the Venetians by selling various overseas assets and offering trade concessions for a price. Roman agents in Constantinople discover the transfers but allow them to continue, provided that no Roman currency is used (as that could be considered a violation of the Treaty of Dyrrachium) and that a six percent toll is paid on the money transfer. Merchants from Ancona and Urbino are the main benefactors of the Venetian sales.

In his efforts to bolster his popularity and legitimacy, Vlad adopts the epithet ‘the Dragon’ after the battle of Gyalu, mirroring Dragos cel Mare (whose first name actually means ‘precious’ in Vlach, his epithet originated because of the similarity of his name to the English word ‘dragon’ but was soon adopted by non-English speakers, including the Vlachs themselves). To the Vlachs, he is now known as Vlad Dracul.

Because of the sheer number of Venetian sailors languishing in Roman prisons and little sign that their mother city will be able to ransom them in the near future, Constantinople institutes a work program. Prisoners will be hired as cheap labor (the employers do not have to pay competitive wages) and can use the money to work towards their freedom. However since their pay is miniscule and largely taken up by the need to buy food (their meals are only provided if they remain on prison grounds, and the laborers are not there for their one midday meal), the money they make is almost nothing.

Mostly the prisoners go to work in the vineyards or mines near where they are kept. However a substantial portion are kept on Cyprus and end up working in the sugar plantations alongside ranks of Malian and Sudanese slaves. Conversely the plantation owners do not care about the longevity of the workers, so they are treated extremely poorly compared to slaves. Constantinople does not care either, as most of the prisoners are simple rowers, unable to fetch a significant ransom. Venetian ship captains and marine commanders, who can, do not participate in the program.

Slaves get better food free of charge, a longer midday rest break, and are paid more. They are paid by how much sugar they harvest and process and can use the pay to buy their freedom. This is done because it helps improve slave morale, decrease runaways, and makes sure the owners do not have to deal with old slaves who cannot work as well (the wages are calculated so that most slaves buy their freedom in their late forties or early fifties). Many freedmen actually stay in the business, being hired by their former owners as regular paid employees and serving as foremen. A handful of plantation owners are actually the descendants of former slaves, and use slaves on their plantations.

This does create a perpetual need for new slaves, which is only partially alleviated by the fact that offspring of two slaves are born slaves. Females only make up about 15% of the slave population, so there is little opportunity for slave progeny. The port of Alexandria and its Mameluke merchants are the main suppliers of fresh slaves (shipped up the Nile from Sudan), distantly followed by Genoese Tunis. Ukrainian slaves are not used as they fare rather poorly in the hot climate of Cyprus.

One of the Venetians in the program is a man by the name of Giovanni Loredan, a young, intelligent, educated, charismatic man, the son of wealthy salt merchants. He had fought in Skopelos as a marine officer and had later been captured at Negroponte. He had been ransomed by his parents but had rejoined the Venetian fleet, being captured again at Monemvasia. Because of his qualities, he quickly becomes the spokesman of the Venetian laborers, demanding food and a longer break. His demands are ignored with laughter, and he is given thirty five lashes to the cheers of the plantation slaves (the slaves do not like the Venetian laborers as every bushel of sugar they harvest means less pay and delayed freedom). He is left out in the field, the noontime Mediterranean sun beating down him. Lying there, he prays to God, promising that if he lives and gains his freedom, he will join the clergy and devote the rest of his life to serving him. He lives through the day, but will forever carry a mass of hideous scars along his back, a constant reminder of his hatred of all things Roman.

In the Veneto, when Andrew hears the news of Gyalu, he explodes with rage. According to one account, he bit the tip off of his scepter. With Transylvania and the eastern march gone, there is nothing to prevent Vlad from invading Hungary proper. Also the Vlach insurrection has cut off the grain shipments from the Ukraine and Bulgaria, which had been feeding Hungarians while Hungarian grain fed the army in Italy.

July 21 is a terrible night for the Venetians, as Andrew no longer cares about conserving powder and shot. At least two thousand cannonballs are fired into the lagoon; the roar of Venetian guns returning the fire is completely drowned out by the continuous salvos. In the city the populace is terrified, as not even Francesco Lando has received word of Gyalu (although he is aware of Gabriel Dobozi’s defection). In an effort to boost morale, another raid is launched but is thwarted before it starts around midnight, as a blind shot rips the troop transport in half just a few minutes after leaving the docks. The next morning Andrew offers peace terms.

Despite the situation in his eastern territories, he has no reason to be generous. He demands that Venice formally cede all its territories in Europe east of Gorz and make a lump payment of 500,000 Venetian ducats. After a day of negotiations, a peace is signed. Venice cedes the demanded territories, but the tribute is converted into installments of 25,000 ducats over twenty years. Two dozen Venetian councilors and wealthy merchants are handed over to Andrew, to be kept in Buda as insurance that Venice will honor their agreement. Venice or its citizens are also responsible for paying all the expenses of the hostages, including transportation to and from Buda. Francesco begrudgingly signs the treaty, muttering afterwards that ‘Venice has little more than her life left to her, but that is all one needs for revenge.’

As soon as the Hungarian army leaves, the Venetians set to work rebuilding their battered city. To make money, as many Hungarian cannonballs as possible are pried from the ruins and resold on the open market. But as they construct new homes, churches, and shops, uncovering the bodies of more and more dead, their thoughts, like that of their doge, are increasingly of revenge. There is anger toward the Hungarians for wreaking such damage. There is anger toward the Milanese for their betrayal. But most of all, there is anger toward the Romans. It was they who had summoned the Hungarians (untrue but believed by the Venetian populace); it was they who had crippled the Republic. Thousands of their sons and brothers continue to rot in Roman prisons or boil in Roman vineyards and plantations. As they stew, their thoughts drift back to happier days, to days of Enrico Dandolo and the Fourth Crusade, when Venice towered over Constantinople and cast her down. And they think, ‘our fathers did it once, perhaps our children shall do it again.’

As soon as Vlad hears the news that Andrew has entered Hungary in mid-August, he pulls back the raiders he had been sending out, consolidating his army in western Transylvania. By relentlessly drilling his peasant army, equipping them with captured Hungarian material, and corseting them with veteran marcher formations, he has significantly improved the capabilities of his forces, but not enough to take Andrew head-on. So he falls back before the Hungarian advance, burning fields and poisoning wells as he does so.

He deliberately retreats past Gyalu, where the skeletons of the Hungarians and Germans ghoulishly remain fixed on their stakes. To the Vlachs, it is a reminder of recent glory, boosting their morale as they retreat. To the Hungarians two days behind them (the army is moving rather slowly as it needs a large supply train since Andrew will not allow the troops to forage in his own domains), it terrifies them, the eerie ranks of their slain comrades staring at them from beyond the grave. To Andrew, it is a source of rage; he is now on the verge of apoplexy. Refusing to stop to bury the skeletons, he continues east despite the mutterings of his troops.

Finally at Torda Vlad turns and challenges Andrew, drawing up his troops in the wagon laager formation used at Gyalu. While the formation is a powerful defensive nut to crack, its main weakness is that it is a perfect target for artillery, and Andrew has a great many cannon. However they are scattered across the road behind the Hungarian army, unable to keep up with Andrew’s advance.

Also Vlad has been dispatching columns of light infantry behind the Hungarian army to harass flankers and stragglers. However their main mission has been to attack the various gun crews as they laboriously haul their guns across the Hungarian plain. With most of the hussars in the east attempting to corral Vlad and force him to fight, guarding the supply train carrying the army’s rations, or buried in the Veneto, the gun crews and their small escorts are often overrun, the crews slaughtered, and the guns spiked. So at Torda Andrew has no artillery, but has almost a two to one advantage in infantry and a six to one advantage in cavalry.

The attack is opened with fierce missile barrages from the Hungarian horse archers and crossbowmen, covering the advance of lumberjacks from the Carpathians armed with two-handed heavy axes to break the chains connecting the Vlach wagons. Vlach crossbows and the occasional handgun snap back, and then the culverins roar into action. By now the gun crews are the most professional part of Vlad’s army, and their targets are directly in front of them. The mauled Carpathians fall back, Andrew ordering the horse archers forward to shoot down the gun crews while they reload their pieces.

They advance, loosing sheets ‘so thick a man could walk on them,’ according to one observer. Missiles from the wagons volley back, but forward observers can see many men hurriedly spanning crossbows and reloading cannons, but not many shooting them. Closer they move, as Hungarian dismounted knights and mail-clad Croat infantry approach to storm the laager.

Then the reserve guns fire. Due to the lack of proper cannonballs, these cannons are loaded with canvas bags filled with miscellaneous debris such as nails, rocks or arrowheads. Since the ammunition used is less durable than regular shot, smaller powder charges are used, resulting in an extremely limited range. But in such close quarters, it is murderous, mirroring the volleys at Alarcos in lethality. The Hungarian army staggers back as its lead units are shredded. While the plate armor of the Hungarian knights is enough to repel the small projectiles when hit from long range, many of them had stripped off all their plate armor except for their cuirass to improve their endurance on their feet as they had done at Treviso. So most of them are not killed, unlike their less well-protected comrades, but nearly all suffer crippling wounds to their limbs and are out of the fight.

Andrew launches two more attempts on the laager during the afternoon, but fails to break through due to timely support from the Vlach culverins. With a very high number of wounded soldiers because of the use of scattershot and very discouraged survivors, Andrew is forced to abandon the campaign, pulling his battered army back to Buda. Vlad does not harass his retreat, not willing to risk provoking the Hungarian king into changing his mind. Gathering what equipment he can from the slain Hungarian soldiers, he withdraws to Targoviste.

However shortly afterward, a war of skirmishes begins, pitting Hungarian light cavalry and Vlach light infantry against each other. Since the Vlachs do not have the training or discipline of the akritoi that they try to mirror, the skirmishes mainly go in favor of Hungary. Fighting even in winter, the hussars begin the process of clearing western Transylvania, slowing starving the towns into submission.

To the south, the Vidin War comes to an end. For both Serbia under Lazar I and Bulgaria under George II, it is a bitter peace with the status quo restored. Bulgaria is forced to resign itself to the loss of its territories west of the Morava river, while Lazar has to abandon his dream of uniting the Southern Slavs into a great kingdom under his rule. However the Serbs are overall the winner, keeping their recent conquests and now controlling a respectable piece of the Balkans. Meanwhile Bulgaria is now a rather short and thin country, uncomfortably sandwiched between the Danube and Roman Thrace.

From Finland to Vizcaya: The Early Years of Olaf Tordsson

Olaf Tordsson was born in 1369, in the city of Turku in Finland, a member of the wealthy Borne family, which was very powerful in the region. When he was twenty years old he moved to Gotland to take control over the family assets on the island. The Borne family, ever in need of more money to help defend its holdings in Karelia against Novgorod-Lithuania, had begun dabbling in the Baltic trade that flowed through the island, although opposition from Hanseatic merchants was making that difficult.

Denmark had made threatening gestures toward Gotland in the past, including an attempted invasion in 1363 that had been destroyed in a storm before it reached the island. But by the ends of the fourteenth century, Denmark’s attention was focused elsewhere. Since the late 1340s, much of Denmark’s attention had been focused northward in Norway (no personal union between Norway and Sweden) or southward toward Germany.

There had been an invasion of Norway after the Black Death, the Danes counting on the heavy casualties amongst the Norwegian aristocracy to aid their attack. However the new king Eric III, the only survivor of the royal house, although just nineteen years old, rallied the people of Norway and drove the Danes out except for the coastal portions of Vestagder and Austagder, which they were able to keep. With Baltic success illusive, Denmark turned south toward Germany, forcing the Dukes of Slesvig back into vassalage along with the Duke of Holstein, although the free imperial city of Lubeck remained independent. Holstein’s titular sovereign, the Holy Roman Emperor, made a token protest but was unable to exert serious authority so far from Munich. Later with the rise of Saxony the Bavarian emperors viewed Denmark as a potential northern counterweight to Saxon ambition.

The threat to Gotland came from another quarter. Just eighteen months after Olaf arrived in Gotland, the island was attacked by the Teutonic Order. The trading wealth of the island was crucial to the Order’s survival, which was becoming more and more precarious as Novgorod and Lithuania moved towards each other. Against the plate-equipped Teutonic Knights (the Order had dispatched three thousand of their best men to ensure a quick success), the Gotland militia did not have a chance. It was Olaf who turned the tide, rallying the militia and reinforcing them with his own guard of 150 plate-clad men and his own terrifying presence. Attacking during a rainstorm while the wind blew into the Teutons’ faces, he drove them into the sea. The captured Teutonic gear Olaf took to supplement his guards’ equipment, the remainder being sold to Novgorod. The proceeds allowed him to expand his guard by another fifty men, all armored in plate.

For the next decade, he prospered in Gotland, but in 1398 the Borne family began its bid for the throne of Sweden, led by Olaf’s uncle Magnus Ericson. Since the Borne family was the power in Finland, many in the wealthy family had dreamed of becoming lords of Sweden as well. With the Swedish king Valdemar II distracted by a dispute with the Norwegians in Torsby and somewhat unpopular due to his favoring of Hanseatic merchants (which also imperiled Borne interests in Gotland), the time to strike seemed ripe.

They were wrong. Magnus landed north of the town of Trosa, which was small but sometimes frequented by the Hansa. Olaf himself did not participate, but dispatched fifty of his bodyguard and two hundred Gotland militia clad in mail in four ships to support the endeavor. However much of Magnus’ army was Finnish, some of whom were still pagans recruited from the Sami people. This allowed Valdemar to paint Magnus as a pagan ruler, hardly fit to rule a Christian kingdom.

Because of Valdemar’s propaganda, Trosa chose to resist, forcing Magnus to begin a siege. Trying to woo the town into capitulating, he forsook a direct assault, but the inhabitants of Trosa refused to listen. The siege allowed Valdemar to gather his forces and converge on Magnus’ army. In the ensuing battle, the Borne army was utterly crushed, although Olaf’s plate-armored soldiers wreaked a terrible slaughter upon their enemies before being felled by sheer weight of numbers. Magnus was killed.

Although the ringleader was dead, Valdemar knew he lacked the strength to invade Finland considering the power of the Borne there. So he settled for a return to the status quo before the rebellion. However Gotland was within his reach; to forestall an attack, Olaf went into exile. He took with him the remainder of his guard, one hundred and fifty men, and nine hundred of the Gotland militia.

Olaf’s company arrived in Bremen in February 1399, where they were hired as mercenaries. In northwest Germany, the power of the Bavarian emperors was extremely limited, allowing the numerous small states in the region to battle each other constantly. Bremen employed them against its main rivals of Hoya and Oldenburg, and due to Olaf’s leadership, particularly in the skillful use of terrain, they won several victories. Olaf used the spoils to improve the equipment of his men, increasing his full plate-armored men to two hundred and fifty by 1406.

While there, Olaf took an interest in horse breeding. Due to his size and the heavy armor that he wore, only the greatest of horses were capable of bearing the Swede into battle. To fill this need, Olaf created a stud farm responsible for providing him with war horses. In 1406 the pride of his farm was a young white stallion, eighteen hands, two inches tall. When his head was raised, even Olaf had to look up to stare him in the eye. It became Olaf’s favorite horse.

Yet their very success soon dried up their job opportunities, but a rather unusual employer appeared at this time, James II, King of Scotland, in need of skilled men to help fight the Norwegians (because of disputes over the Orkneys) and the English. Olaf took up the offer, fighting for the Scottish for the next four years. It is there where he began using the claymore. However the pay was poor compared to what they earned in Germany, so in early 1410 the company set sail for the Low countries, where they took up service in the employ of Burgundy. For six years they battled the English, Flemish rebels, and the occasional Germans. Olaf used the time to continue improving his men’s equipment. In 1416, the number of full plate-armored men remained the same as in 1406, but the remaining eight hundred men (losses had been replaced by new recruits; by this point the company is about sixty five percent Swedish, although all soldiers are equipped and trained in an identical manner) all have plate cuirasses to supplement their mail armor.

Then Gregory XII, pope in Avignon, issued his call to crusade. Thinking he might use the pope to return to Gotland, Olaf traveled there in September 1416. He stated that if the pope helped him to return to Gotland, he would do everything in his power to encourage crusades against both the pagan Sami and the Orthodox Novgorodians. Gregory was not interested; the Sami were not a threat to Christendom while Gregory wanted to improve relations with Orthodoxy. He offered another option. If Olaf would serve in the coming crusade, he would likely gain great wealth (from the looted cities of al-Andalus) and more men (from the troops disbanded by the Iberian kings after the crusade). And he would then gain the full support of the papacy, but only after the Marinid threat had been eliminated. To encourage Olaf’s participation, Gregory offered to bankroll the company. Olaf accepted and in March 1417 he arrived at the port of Bilbao, ready to participate in the Gunpowder Crusade.

1419: The Gunpowder Crusade resumes as all three Iberian armies move southward with Ferdinand by far the biggest menace as his thrust threatens the Guadalquivir. The troops already stationed in the valley vigorously oppose him with raids and skirmishes, but are reluctant to risk a major pitched battle where they can be targeted by the Castilian artillery. Deciding that his troops need a major victory to restore their confidence, the Marinid Sultan Abu al-Hasan ibn Mohammed has his new African army, safeguarded by the new fleet constructed with Genoese materials, land in Cartagena to combat the smaller Aragonese army. While the Portuguese forces are even smaller, they are not a threat to the major Mediterranean ports and it would take longer to move the troops there, and al-Hasan wants his victory now.

Near the village of Yecla, the forward scouts of the Marinid and Aragonese armies make contact. Outnumbered, the Aragonese throw up earthen fortifications similar to the ones used at Alarcos, positioning their artillery to defend their lines while harassing the Marinids with almughavars. Since the Aragonese are the original inventors of the fearsome light infantry, theirs are of the highest quality and severely harry the green Marinid troops.

The Marinids are nervous as they advance, as every hedge or copse of trees is a potential ambush. For the new recruits sleep is difficult as a favorite almughavar tactic is to sneak into the Marinid camps and slit throats at night. Spotting the fortified Aragonese encampment is actually a relief; here is something in front of them that they can kill. As soon as they are drawn up into battle array, they attack. It is May 16.

Once more Christian crossbows and cannons roar, slashing at the Muslim ranks. However the grassy farmland does not add a wave of smaller missiles like the gravel at Alarcos, and the Aragonese have less guns. Threatened ruptures are quickly plugged by the Swedish crusaders; Olaf Tordsson wants to be with the Iberian army that is advancing in full battle array as light cavalry skirmishing is not particularly his style. He also knows that the more he contributes to the crusade, the more Gregory XII will contribute to his return home. Roaring and swinging his massive claymore, the giant and his men make a most fearsome reserve.

However the sheer number of Marinid soldiers is still too much. A breakthrough is achieved at 11 AM, the soldiers spilling out and heading for the most opulent tent. It belongs to Maria of Barcelona, former Empress of the Romans, there to encourage the soldiers by her presence (she is much more popular in her native Aragon that she ever was in the Empire). She throws her household guards into the fray. Although few in number, they are all armored in plate and equipped with glaives. They attack, twirling and slashing with their long staffs, slicing down the enemy. When Olaf slams into them as well, they immediately break. The breach is plugged as Maria’s younger brother Martin, Prince of Majorca, leads a ferocious counterattack of the Aragonese knighthood, smashing into the stalled right flank of the Marinids.

The cavalry charge bites deep into the Marinid ranks, but outside the ramparts they are unprotected from flank attacks. The Marinid reserves counterattack the counterattack, surrounding the Aragonese knights. An attempt at breakout fails because the Marinid infantry swarm the knights, preventing them from working up an effective charge. They grimly form a circle, determined to take as many of the enemy with them as they can. Seeing her brother’s peril, Maria orders her guards to charge down the embankment.

Olaf immediately joins them, shouting to his men “Come on, you dogs! Do you want to live forever?”, then leaping over the embankment. Together Maria’s guards and Olaf’s Swedes charge down the slope, bowling over the Marinid soldiers foolish or unfortunate enough to stand in their way. The Marinid line recoils as the charge smashes into them, the twirling blades ripping open a hole. Bands of almughavars crest the hill, pouring javelins into the breach, widening it. Olaf, of course, is in the front of the advance, swords and darts and arrows bouncing off of his extra-thick plate armor (about the same weight as a normal man’s tournament armor). In contrast nothing is capable of stopping his hammer blows.

Spotting their rescuers, the knights start hacking their way to the front, their maces and axes making a makeshift rampart of corpses as they move. Pressed from the front and rear simultaneously, cannonballs still plowing into the mass, the Marinid front gives way, speeding south to get out of the Aragonese clutches. With the green troops, the panic is contagious. Within twenty minutes it is a rout. However the Aragonese knights lost many of their horses during the charge and melee, while the jinetes are tied up dealing with the veteran Berber cavalry units that did not take part in the rout. Therefore there is no murderous cavalry pursuit that would have wiped out the Marinid army. Its bloodied squadrons remain to fight another day. In the aftermath of the victory, Olaf decides to rename his favorite horse, his giant white stallion. From now on, he is to be known as Moorsbane.

Even without a pursuit, the defeat is devastating to the Marinid cause, confirming in the minds of the soldiers that attacking a fortified Christian camp is suicide. As a result, the Marinids fight a war of maneuver, attempting to ambush Christian armies. However since all three Iberian armies are employing a two-layer screen system of jinetes and almughavars (doctrinally almost identical to Roman screening tactics), ambushing them is rather difficult. However the Berber light cavalry, the hardiest part of the Marinid army, repeatedly stage raids on the supply lines which are fairly successful since the Iberian light infantry and cavalry best suited to counter them have to be with the main armies to protect them from ambushes by other Marinid units.

Despite turning Alarcos into a formidable fortress and supply depot, Ferdinand is forced to abandon his attack on the Guadalquivir because of these raids. Taking the strongly defended cities of the river valley requires huge amounts of powder and shot, which his harassed supply line can not adequately provide. Finding adequate rations is also difficult as foragers have to travel en masse and be well guarded against ambushes, which lessens their effectiveness. By July, Ferdinand is back in Alarcos, dispatching flying columns of jinetes and mounted almughavars in an effort to whittle down Marinid numbers.

The Aragonese and Portuguese are not as hampered by supply difficulties as their fleets are immune to Berber cavalry. However Aragon’s main target, the large port city of Cartagena, is now garrisoned by the Yecla survivors. To discourage a breakout attempt, the Aragonese construct large earthen ramparts and bastions, covering them with lines of wooden stakes. Although the Aragonese are now virtually immune to attack, so is the city. Too strong to be taken by assault or bombardment, the garrison will have to be destroyed through starvation, a long and difficult process as the new Marinid fleet fiercely challenges the naval blockade, allowing an intermittent flow of supplies into the port.

It is now the Portuguese who advance the fastest. Fighting in an area less important to the Marinid cause, they face the fewest and worst troops and fortifications. The main thing hampering their war effort is their low powder production, but a solution is found in March. Because of the Ninety Years’ War, England’s powder production has quadrupled in the past decade. However because of the English artillery’s reputation, many French castles surrender once the heavy guns are in position, before they fire a shot. As a result, Edward VI has more gunpowder than he needs. He trades that surplus for Portuguese coin, using that coin to purchase goods and services in the French towns. With English powder, the Portuguese army hammers its way south. When the campaigning season ends, Sines has fallen and plans are being made to invade the Algarve, the conquest of which would restore Portuguese borders to where they had been before the battle of Rio Salado.

Meanwhile the Vlach war continues, both Hungarians and Vlachs vigorously raiding each other. In one respect, that war mirrors the post-Yecla Gunpowder Crusade. The Vlachs lack the numbers to field a major offensive and guard the necessary supplies, while the Hungarians are reluctant to attack a Vlach army arrayed in its wagon laager (Vlach raiders are directed to wreck bridges and guard fords so as to prevent the Hungarians from being able to bring artillery to the front lines to blow apart the wagons). Although the Vlach screening system is not as effective as the Iberians due to their weakness in cavalry, it takes much less time to draw up the wagons into a defensive circle than to create Iberian-style fieldworks. However only large Vlach forces equipped with culverins are able to create effective wagon laager defenses capable of stopping a determined assault. In most of the fighting which is in the open and between smaller forces, the Hungarian soldiers are much more bold.

The main Hungarian advantage in the war is their vast superiority in light cavalry, the hussars. Faster than Vlach light infantry (although not as stealthy), they are slowly able to clear major Vlach forces from all of Transylvania west of the Gheorgheni-Sibiu line (about three fourths of Transylvania), including the old battlefields of Gyalu and Torda, by the end of the year. However the bands of Vlach raiders prove to be impossible to eradicate. This time, the impaled corpses at Gyalu are taken down and buried with Catholic rites. However east of that line, anchored by the two large towns, the Hungarians are unable to advance.

The latest conflict between the Blue and White Hordes comes to an end. While earlier wars had favored the Blue Horde, Sarai has never recovered from Timur’s attack, so now the two states are equally matched. The recent war ends with only a few minor adjustments in borders and exhausts both states. The main winner of the Horde war is their neighbors.

1420: In Roman Armenia, Turkmen raids are becoming more and more troublesome. To help counteract the attacks, Demetrios has one of the Coloneia (the theme to which the Armenian cleisurai are subordinated) and one Chaldean banda transferred to the region. The new arrivals are almost immediately attacked by Turkmen raiders, several of them losing wives and children in the attacks on the transport convoys. When the banda soldiers ambush another Turkmen column crossing the frontier, instead of ransoming the prisoners they execute them via burning.

The economy of the Empire is starting to pick up as long-distance trade networks disrupted by the War of the Five Emperors are revived (the damage and death caused by the Turkmen is limited to the frontier districts). While the Plethon merchant family, the richest in the late Laskarid Empire, and several others lost most of their fortune when the Corinth-Antioch trade link was cut, mid-level merchants are moving up to take their place. With inter-theme trade reviving comes increased tolls for the treasury. Also the stabilization of west Asia after the Timurid civil war has allowed the eastern trade to expand. Business in Trebizond is booming as smaller merchants move into the spice market and the trade in alum and mastic, needing ships to transport their products westward.

Merchants from Ancona and Urbino, while still vastly outnumbered by Venetians, Genoese, and Pisans, are becoming a more familiar sight. Living under the shadow of Venice, Naples, and the Papacy, the citizens of the two minor Italian duchies are much less antagonistic to the Empire, viewing it as a potential protector against their powerful local neighbors. To help secure their positions, Anconan and Urbinese merchants also make the practice of learning fluent Greek, both Duchies hiring tutors and bringing them to Italy to teach.

Most Italian merchants do speak some Greek, although usually it is minimal and limited to the marketplace (Various economic concessions such as reduced tolls and tax-free market districts made learning substantial Greek largely pointless in earlier years). Individually, the most successful merchants are the Coron and Modon Genoese, who are bilingual in both Italian and Greek, allowing them to make more and better contacts with local merchants. This is a byproduct of the fact that the merchants based there typically grew up there, not the result of a conscious policy on the part of the Genoese. Merchants from the mother city or the Crimean colonies are no more competent in Greek than their Venetian or Pisan counterparts.

There is also a sort of cultural prejudice amongst most learned westerners against the Greek language. With the expansion of Roman power in southern Italy, fear of the Empire is growing in western Europe, fanned by religious hatred which is eagerly encouraged by the Venetians. They are busy strengthening their trade ties with the Mamelukes (who are, in Roman eyes, the most dangerous threat to the Empire). As a result of this prejudice and fear, knowledge of Greek is considered suspect, with Latin viewed as the true language of learning.

Since the peoples of the west are members of the Roman Catholic Church, the progressively louder claims of Constantinople to be the true and only heir of both Greece and Rome is increasingly obnoxious. Surrounded by the ruins of ancient Rome, walking in the streets of Rome, the Italians consider themselves to be the real heirs of ancient Rome. Books by Latin authors such as Cicero and Livy are considered to be essential to any aspiring library (which have been made cheaper by the growth of paper mills beyond Iberia and Rhomania although the significant labor that goes into a manuscript still makes the texts quite expensive). Latin translations of ancient Greek authors already known to the west, such as Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Euclid, are also considered essential, although the translations make the bold claim that the Latin far better conveys the wisdom and vision of these authors than even the finest Greek (a claim that is met with scorn by Roman bibliophiles). The elegant Latin used in the chanceries of Florence, Milan, and the Papacy are also used to further the Italians’ superior claim to Rome over Constantinople, where Latin is a dead tongue.

Still there is some exchange of ideas between Rhomania and Italia. As plate armor is immensely popular amongst the kataphraktoi and wealthier skutatoi, Italian armor makers are imported into the Empire to teach their techniques. In Florence, artists patronized by the wealthy Gonzaga family begin using perspective to create three-dimensional paintings, something which had been used in the Empire for almost twenty years both in paintings and in medical and engineering textbooks.


Portrait of Pietro Gonzaga, by Gherardino Bembo, Florence, 1423.

The increase in trade duties, plus improved agricultural taxes as the last of the blight leaves the Empire, allows Demetrios and Manuel to begin subsidizing new constructions. Due to budget constraints, they had been unable to do so earlier, which made the new Emperors look rather poorly compared to their Laskarid predecessors, all of whom had sponsored projects throughout the Empire. The first is a series of minor fortifications in their new Italian and Crimean domains to bolster frontier defense, equipped with thick, squat towers designed to mount cannons. At the moment the main concern is the Crimea, as Constantinople is paying protection money to Sarai for Soldaia and Kaffa, but not for Theodoro, which was taken during the height of the latest Horde war.

In September, an unusual embassy arrives in Trebizond seeking out the ruler of the Daqin. After a little confusion which is sorted out through the aid of a Kashmiri merchant, it turns out they are seeking the Emperors of the Romans. The envoys had been on an expedition throughout Asia, seeking allies against Shun China. The first stop had been in the Hindu Kingdom of Tibet, which had been extremely open to the proposal as the Tibetans found Shun expansion into the Tien Shan basin a serious threat (the Shun wanted to increase their control over the Silk Road by gradually taking over its waypoints) as it threatened to envelop their state.

The next stop had been in Swati Kashmir, which had been alarmed at the steadily approaching Shun advance and annoyed at the taxes Shun authorities had been placing on their textiles. However in India, the war between Islam and Hinduism is continuing to go poorly for the former. Unable to halt the inexorable Bihari and Vijayangara, a rumor is spreading in the Delhi Sultanate that the reason for their failure is that the ghazis have not dealt with the apostates to the north. While so far it has just been talk, it is making Srinagar nervous. So Kashmir did not enter into an alliance, but did offer to send some subsidies in the event of a war, although only in non-Kashmiri currency.

Their next destination had been Samarkand to try and meet with Shah Rukh. However they received word that the Timurid Khan was embroiled in a war with the Uzbek Khanate, which required all of his efforts. He would not be available. The states of eastern Persia were too small to be of help. While the Jalayirid state was large and capable of putting forth a mighty military effort, its decentralized nature made offensive operations on the part of Fars virtually impossible.

By this point mere geography would stifle any military aid, but the envoys were determined to make one last appeal. The might of Timur had been well known to them, and so they sought out the one state that had been able to best him in battle, Daqin, Great China. Perhaps such a state so mighty in the art of war might be able to find a way to help. And so they arrived in Trebizond, having traveled the entire breadth of Asia from their homeland, Wu China.

The Middle Kingdom is broken, China a land divided. When the Yuan dynasty collapsed in the 1350s, waves of rebellions rolled over China, gradually coalescing into two main groups, one in the north and one in the south. The first became Shun China (capital is Tianjin), the second Wu China (capital is Guangzhou). The border between the two states is the Yangtze river, heavily patrolled by Wu warships.

Both states are massive in their resources. Shun has a population of fifty million, and supposedly fields an army five hundred thousand strong. Wu’s peoples number thirty six million, and field an army that is a mere three hundred and seventy thousand strong. From their inception, both states have largely left each other alone, distracted by other threats. Shun spent the last third of the fourteenth century humbling the Oirats and the Kingdom of Urumqi, the latter opening Shun eyes to the wealth that could be gained by controlling the Silk Road. Wu spent that time conquering the Kingdom of Dali (a revival of the state destroyed by the Mongols) to the west. Also it had to deal with raids from Dai Viet, until the burgeoning Kingdom of Champa had destroyed that state with the help of Wu subsidies.

However now Shun has begun eyeing Wu, envisioning a rebirth of an united China. Several skirmishes and naval battles have taken place, Wu winning most, but the southern state has never had to face the full might of Shun China. If it does, its survival is precarious. To compensate for its numerical inferiority, Wu China has been much more open than earlier Chinese empires, dispatching diplomats and merchants all across Asia and the Indian Ocean, forging diplomatic ties for alliances and trade ties for wealth.

Both Demetrios and Manuel meet the Wu Chinese delegation in Constantinople, but are unable to offer any aid. The distance is too great and there is nothing that the Wu Chinese can offer anyway; Shun China is not a threat to the Empire. However they do offer a special gift, a copy of the latest spy reports from the Timurid Empire. Shah Rukh has won a crushing victory over the Uzbek Khanate at Gharm; the war there is over with the Uzbek Khan forced to pay a sizeable tribute to Shah Rukh, who has revived his grandfather’s title ‘Lord of Asia’.

While the envoys are disappointed at the lack of Roman aid of any kind, the report does brighten their mood. Perhaps Shah Rukh might be of some use to them after all. Not willing to travel through central Asia in winter, they elect to remain in Constantinople in the meantime, purchasing some high-quality Bithynian silks in the process. They depart in March of the next year, headed towards Samarkand via Georgia.

In Iberia, the Gunpowder Crusade remains largely stalled in both the Castilian and Aragonese theaters. Cartagena is still stubbornly holding out, while Ferdinand does not have the resources to break the hard Guadalquivir nut, even with the continuing church subsidies. Portugal does launch an invasion of the Algarve, but is faced with serious opposition from the locals, who have largely converted to Islam (unlike the population in the rest of conquered Portugal, who had remained Catholic and supported the Portuguese offensive) and supply the elite crews in the Marinid fleet. With their ships they act like nautical Berber cavalry on the Portuguese supply lines.

Encouraged by the Poles and Vlachs, the Slovakians under Hungarian rule also rise up in revolt, protesting against the crushing taxes Andrew has imposed on them in his need for ever more money to fight his wars. Fortunately for him, the recapture of about three fourths of Transylvania has restored virtually all of his silver and copper mines to his control, although many of them were damaged by the retreating Vlach forces.

Andrew marches north, heading toward Bartfa, which is the center of the rebellion, but is challenged by a Polish army moving down from Krakow. The battle of Bartfa is fiercely contested, the Polish lancers flattening the lighter Hungarian hussars, but Andrew wins after launching a counterattack at 5 PM, ripping open a hole in the Polish lines with massed crossbow volleys and punching through with Hungarian knights and mail-clad, mace-wielding Croat heavy infantry which rip apart the Polish ranks. However due to the lateness of the attack, the Polish army is able to retire in good order, garrisoning Bartfa.

Faced with a war in the north and in the east, Andrew knows he needs to make peace with one of his enemies. Reluctantly, he chooses Vlad, as he is the one most likely to accept peace. His terms are that in exchange for recognizing Vlad as ruler of Vlachia, including the portion of Transylvania that he still controls, Vlad will return all Hungarian prisoners without ransom, allow the transfer of Bulgarian and Ukrainian grain to Hungarian markets (although the Vlachs may place a import toll on the shipments), and allow Catholics to maintain their faith without persecution. Vlad accepts the terms, although all Catholic monasteries in his realm are dissolved and their properties transferred to his treasury. However the monks and other Catholics in his territories are allowed to keep their clerics and churches. Roughly fifteen percent of his subjects follow the western rite (the low level caused by the loss of most of Transylvania, although most of its Orthodox inhabitants emigrated to Vlachia), with the remainder being Orthodox.

1421: The Wu Chinese delegates gain an audience with Shah Rukh in Samarkand in early May. The Lord of Asia is busy readying his armies for a planned invasion of Khorasan to remove the most powerful of his dynastic rivals. As a result, he is initially unresponsive but then the Wu change tactics. They point out that while his grandfather had been great, there was one monumental task he had left undone: the conquest of China. If Shah Rukh could succeed in this endeavor, he would outshine even Timur himself. Such a lure is irresistible to Shah Rukh, who is eager to move out of his grandfather’s shadow. With the offer of Wu subsidies (transferred via Kashmir) Shah Rukh accepts; the armies of Timur will march on Shun China.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian-Polish war is a stalemate. Andrew had managed to impose a siege on Bartfa, but was forced to abandon it due to lack of supplies. He returns to the offensive, but is hampered by the fearsome Polish cavalry which is almost unstoppable in melee. Normally he would counteract the lancers with his horse archers, but they had been used to guard against Venetian marine raids during the war and took heavy casualties. While Hungarian knighthood is capable of standing up to the Poles in mounted combat, provided numbers are even, many of the nobility took serious wounds at Torda and were permanently incapacitated.


A column of Polish cavalry​

As a result, taking the field is dangerous for Andrew, who can only win through using obstacles to break up and slow Polish charges long enough for his infantry crossbowmen to whittle down their strength enough for his outnumbered cavalry to have a chance. In July the city of Pozsony, known to its Slovakian inhabitants as Presporok (OTL modern Bratislava), breaks into open revolt under the leadership of the Slovak noble Andrej Moyzes. The newly crowned Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II of Bavaria, eager for a chance to humiliate his Hungarian rival (who has occasionally, despite the Treaty of Salzburg, called himself the rightful Holy Roman Emperor), sends substantial subsidies to the city, which are used to purchase cannons from the prestigious Moravian foundries.

Disengaging himself from the Polish army and garrisons to the east, Andrew marches on Pozsony, arriving in August, almost two months after the revolt. Taking this city is crucial if he wants to maintain control over Slovakia, as it is the largest, wealthiest Slovak city and the only one with an university (established in 1401). However due to its strategic location near the border of the Holy Roman Empire and Poland, it is well fortified and now, with the Moravian purchases, bristling with cannons.

The steady and accurate fire from the battlements, directed by hired Bohemian and German gun crews, forces Andrew to stay well away from the walls, making the fire of his own artillery haphazard and inaccurate. Meanwhile Andrej organizes the townspeople into brigades assigned to specific wall sections. The young men fight, the old men repair and fashion weapons, the women act as firefighters, and the children bring replacement equipment to the walls. As the entire populace fights to defend their town, Andrej is everywhere, rallying the timid and leading the courageous. A short, skinny man with a thin, bent nose, to the Hungarians he is as dangerous as an Olaf Tordsson.

During the siege, the city of Nitra, the second largest city in the region and the former capital of the old Principality of Nitra, rises up in revolt as well. The overstretched Hungarian army is simply unable to keep up with all of the demands placed upon it. Polish cavalry units sweep southward, held in check only when a few minor columns are ambushed in the Carpathian passes by local woodsmen.

To help safeguard his state while he (hopefully) reduces Pozsony, Andrew turns to an unexpected source for military aid, the Kingdom of Serbia. During the Vidin war, Lazar I had created a small but extremely well equipped corps of Serbian knights. Protected by the very best Italian plate armor, fighting with lance, mace, and saber, they are directly inspired by the disciplined Roman kataphraktoi. Personally commanded by Lazar himself, membership in the corps is very prestigious and lucrative, but demands unwavering obedience. To deliberately break formation during a charge in battle is punished by death (the same as the kataphraktoi), and the soldiers are required to spend two months of each year in peacetime in training (in contrast, kataphraktoi and all Roman tagma troops spend three months combined at the official reviews, not including unofficial drill to meet competency standards). Failure to meet predetermined performance standards results in immediate expulsion from the corps.

While giving Lazar, man for man, one of the most powerful cavalry forces in the world, it is also a serious strain on his budget. Andrew offers to purchase the services of the corps, providing the equivalent of 100,000 hyperpyra a year for their use (paid by the Hungarian silver mines, which are beginning to resume production after the cessation of Vlach raids), provide all their pay, equipment, and supplies so long as they are in Hungarian service, and a promise to allow Serbia a free hand in invading Bosnia and/or Zahumlje, so long as both Lazar and Andrew are alive (Lazar is 39, Andrew 42).

Lazar accepts the offer; it solves most of his post-war problems in one stroke. To lead the corps and bring honor and fame to the Serbian state, his second son Durad Brankovic (the Nemanjic dynasty had died out in 1347) is assigned as its new commander. He had already served as a droungarios (the corps uses Roman ranks) in the corps during the Vidin war, leading the climatic cavalry charge at the battle of Razanj in 1416 which shattered the Bulgarian left wing and ruined George II’s hope of regaining his lost territories.


Durad Brankovic, the Hammer of Serbia​

While the Serbian cavalry covers his flank, they do nothing to help the siege of Pozsony. What is particularly galling to Andrew is that many of the bronze cannons shooting at him were forged using Hungarian copper, which is the premier supplier of the Moravian foundries (which provides the Bohemian monarchs substantial revenue from exports, supplying most of Europe east of the Rhine and north of the Alps). However his fury is not enough to breach the city’s wall. Riding back and forth behind his own guns, roaring curses at virtually all of his kingdom’s neighbors, some of his advisers fear for his sanity.

While the Serbians can go toe to toe with the Polish lancers, they are vastly outnumbered. One column skirts the city of Pest, burning farmlands and villages, flattening an ill-trained, ill-equipped levy of local farmers and artisans when they try to defend their homes. Drawing on the wrath of the townspeople, the nobleman Bela Kinizsi proclaims himself King Bela V of Hungary, promising to bring peace to the Hungarians and death to the Poles. The city of Pest overwhelmingly supports him, although the royal capital of Buda on the opposite side of the Danube remains loyal to Andrew.

Hoping to take the capital quickly, Bela organizes a naval attack using local fishing boats and vessels tied up along the eastern bank. The inhabitants of Buda do the same on their side. The ensuing battle of Buda-Pest is fierce, but Buda has the advantage with its access to the royal arsenals and their stores of crossbows. Bela’s assault is beaten back, although the Danube runs red with the blood of the slain.

Andrew cannot ignore this, and retreats southward toward Pest. Near Acs, his rearguard and artillery train come under fierce attack from Polish lancers. Roaring into action, Durad and his knights charge at them head-on. The impact is tremendous as both ranks of plate-armored heavy cavalry slam into each other at the gallop. Lances splintering and shattering, the Serbs pull out their five-flanged maces, hammering at the enemy. The Poles, used to fighting less well-armored opponents such as Lithuanian or Hungarian hussars, are not all equipped with maces, allowing the outnumbered Serbs to successfully stall the Polish advance. Still the greater number of Poles allows them to curl around the Serbian flanks, threatening to envelop them.

Then Andrew himself charges into the fray, leading his heavy-armed knights. The right wing of the Poles is pinned between the Hungarian van and the Serbian flank and cut to pieces. Andrew is in the middle of it all, roaring out curses as he strikes at the Poles with his mace. With the Polish wing streaming back in disorder, the center begins to waver, allowing Durad to push onward. Meanwhile the Hungarian crossbowmen are in position, pouring bolts into the Polish left wing. Since the range is long, the barrages inflict only minor casualties, but distract the Poles enough so that the Serbs are able to strike killing blows.

Finally the hussars strike, plowing into the Polish rear, slashing at them with their sabers. With the right wing gone, the left wing reeling, and the center cracking, this is the last straw. The Poles break. Since the hussars are fresh, many of them are able to ride down the Polish grooms in the rear, who were holding remounts for the Polish nobles. With their fresh horses captured, many of the Polish knights and their exhausted mounts are captured in the pursuit. Four thousand Poles are taken prisoners, with another two thousand killed. Andrew loses fifteen hundred men, eight hundred of them Serbs.

Even with the need to detail men to guard the prisoners, Andrew is still more than a match for the city of Pest and ‘King’ Bela. Not willing to risk an open battle since he only has an urban militia, Bela holes up in Pest, which unfortunately for him still has fortifications that have not been upgraded since the aftermath of the Mongol invasions. Without cannons of his own to disrupt Andrew’s train, the royal batteries are soon hammering breaches in the walls.

However Acs has improved Andrew’s mood, and anger is no longer clouding his judgment. Recognizing the need to minimize casualties, he does not assault the city, even though he has a decent chance of succeeding. Instead he sends envoys to the citizens of Pest, informing them that they will be allowed to keep their lives and properties provided they hand over Bela and surrender the city. He also warns them that the longer they wait, the less merciful he will be, and if he has to take the city by force, he informs them that he ‘will butcher every living thing inside, tear down the buildings, salt the fields, and damn the site from now until Judgment day.’ For the moment Bela is able to keep the people’s loyalty because of their fear of Andrew’s wrath, but his position is shaky. His hope is that continued Polish incursions will convince the rest of Hungary (and perhaps the army too) to rise up against Andrew.

However Acs has chastened the Poles, who pull back their raiders and concentrate their efforts on Slovakia. With Andrew gone, Andrej Moyzes and a delegation are able to travel to Nitra to meet the leader of the Polish army in Hungary, Jan Piast, Prince of Mazovia and heir to the Polish throne. There they begin negotiations for the creation of a free Slovak state. Many of the delegation want to create a completely free state (many of them are merchants and mine operators and want a new state where they can more easily assure low taxes and tolls). Andrej disagrees, pointing out that without the protection of a greater power, the Slovak state would soon be reclaimed by a recovered Hungary.

His compromise is this, the establishment of a new Principality of Presporok, stretching from Presporok to Bartfa, to be a vassal state of Poland. The new state will have complete internal autonomy and will be allowed to make diplomatic treaties with any state it so chooses, except for states with which Poland is at war. The Principality will pay a regular tribute and will be defended by the Polish armies, but will not have to provide manpower except for its own defense and associated operations. To secure these stipulations, Andrej insists that they also be put into the future Polish-Hungarian peace treaty, when that time arrives. It takes very little for him to convince the delegation to back his proposal unanimously.

Jan reviews the proposal and accepts it, adding the stipulation that the Prince of Presporok must be crowned in Krakow and confirmed in his title by the King of Poland and also rewording the contract so that the tribute is paid to the person of the King of Poland, not to the kingdom of Poland. While it does not give the Poles direct control over the desired territory, the Kings of Poland gain a steady source of revenue that cannot be interfered with by the Sejm, the Polish assembly. The remaining issue is who is to become the first Prince of Presporok. It is a problem quickly solved. There can be no other choice than the Lion of Presporok, Andrej Moyzes. On August 20, he is crowned in Krakow. A new Slovak state is born.

As soon as the news arrive in Pest, the city surrenders. Bela is handed over in chains. The would-be king and his entire family are impaled outside of the gates of Pest. As for the city of Pest, Andrew is determined to make an example of them. Since they surrendered, he cannot raze the city without breaking his word. Instead he issues a decree; all the taxes of Pest are to be tripled. The townspeople do not protest, their eyes fixated on the rotting corpses posted outside the gates. They will remain there until Andrew’s death.

As soon as Pest is dealt with, he marches north. However with Bela’s uprising as a warning, he knows he needs peace soon, lest someone else try and perhaps succeed where Bela failed. Since driving the Poles out and conquering Slovakia would likely be a long and drawn out process, especially because of his losses in guns and gunners, he sends an offer to make peace on honorable terms. The Poles have been chastened by Acs while the Slovaks have what they want, so their terms are simple. Andrew must accept the Nitra Agreement formed by Andrej and Jan. Since it does not require him to give up anything he has not already lost, Andrew accepts the terms.

The Serbian corps is sent back to Lazar with Andrew’s thanks and a year’s worth of their rental fees, even though they had only served for a campaigning season. Lazar is somewhat annoyed by their return; he had hoped they would be gone longer so he could collect more money. Still, it means he can put his plans into effect regarding Bosnia. While the Vidin war was a blow to his dream of creating a pan-Slavic empire, it is still alive. The times are promising as well; he has an arrangement with Buda, while the situation on the Empire’s eastern border is about to explode.
Interlude 2

Roman Culture Under the Laskarids

The coronation of Demetrios I Komnenos and the inauguration of the Second Komnenid dynasty ended the War of the Five Emperors, the longest lasting civil war in Roman history. The Empire had managed to overcome its greatest crisis since the Fourth Crusade, largely due to the two claimants who had not been Laskarid, Demetrios and Manuel. Though they lacked Laskarid blood, the new Emperors could not escape the Laskarid shadow as the Second Komnenid dynasty still used the Laskarid bureaucracy and army in their administration. While they adapted the model at times, the underlying principles remained Laskarid. In social and cultural history, the Second Komnenid period also continued Laskarid trends.

In 1414 the Empire had a population of approximately 12 million inhabitants, compared to its 1345 figure of approximately 13.5 million (In comparison the geographical region of France had 20 million in 1345 and 16 million in 1400). While the major cities of Byzantium had suffered disproportionately from plague epidemics, overall the Empire lost about one third of its population during the Black Death, bringing its population down to 9 million. Although the 1340s to 1370s were rife with plague outbreaks, after 1371 the Empire was free of the contagion until it returned in 1406.

While the long respite definitely helped, other factors also contributed to the fact that the Empire’s population bounced back significantly faster than other Christian lands. (Both France and Byzantium lost about one third of their 1345 population to the Black Death, in 1400 France had eighty percent of its 1345 population, Byzantium eighty eight percent) The largest factor was immigration as Armenians, Georgians, and Vlachs emigrated from their poorer homelands into the Empire, which welcomed the influx of new soldiers and taxpayers to compensate for losses in its native Turkic-Greek populations.

The native Greek and Turkish populations also grew somewhat, as poorer families moved onto richer estates left behind by dead owners, allowing them to support larger families which was encouraged by a temporary reduction in the head tax. However the main reason for native population growth was the extremely capable nature of Roman medicine. In an effort to combat the plague, the School of Medicine at the University of Antioch had conducted a massive study of the distribution of plague fatalities across the Empire, which had been made possible by the extensive records of the Laskarid bureaucracy which had been placed at the doctors’ disposal (The large records kept by the bureaucracy was made possible through the widespread use of water-powered paper mills throughout the Empire, replacing the much more expensive parchment. The design, derived from Islamic models based on Chinese devices, appeared in Iberia and the Empire in the 1280s). Their findings were submitted in a report directly to Empress Anna I herself in 1366.

By comparing the similarities between the areas with the most plague deaths, the doctors in Antioch had found the cause of the disease: rats. Their explanation was that the ill odors of the rats disturbed the balance of humors in the human body, causing the plague. However since rats ate refuse, the best countermeasure was, in the school’s opinion, the construction of elaborate sewer systems designed to remove waste from both living areas and food preparation sites. Anna, who was an avid builder, took their report most seriously and subsidized the construction and improvement of sewer systems throughout the Empire as well as aqueducts to ensure access to fresh water for washing and drinking. The plague that occurred in 1370-71, by which time the project was well underway, claimed only half the lives taken in the 1359-60 epidemic.

The improvement in sanitation systems also supported the urbanizing trend of the Laskarid period. The growth of both the manufacturing and commercial sectors of the Byzantine economy encouraged the expansion of cities particularly in Anatolia, which had declined both in size and number during the Turkish Interregnum. In 1414 the ten largest Roman cities were as followed:

Constantinople: 320,000- the largest city in the world outside of China.
Antioch: 150,000
Thessalonica: 120,000
Nicaea: 75,000
Smyrna: 70,000
Trebizond: 57,000
Aleppo: 52,000
Dyrrachium: 45,000
Attaleia: 38,000
Nicomedia: 32,000

There were at least forty other settlements, two thirds of them in Anatolia, which had populations of at least ten thousand inhabitants. The Empire, with respectable grain producing regions in western Anatolia (particularly Bithynia), Thrace, and Macedonia, was able to provide for most of the food requirements of its cities for most of the fourteenth century. The size of the cities created a continuous internal trade cycle in the Empire, with foodstuffs flowing into the cities and manufactured goods flowing out (village industries were fairly small and limited in product production). However with a sixth of its population living in cities by 1414, those resources were clearly inadequate, with foreign imports having to make up the shortfall. As a result Constantinople began to look more and more at the principal granaries of the eastern Mediterranean, the Ukraine and Egypt.

By comparison the three largest cities in Catholic Europe were:

Venice: 142,000
Milan: 124,000
Genoa: 105,000

Construction works in the cities increased steadily throughout the Laskarid period, with the emphasis on sanitation compensating somewhat for the loss of contractors and workers in the 1345-1371 period. Aqueducts and sewers were only part of the process. The bathhouse also made a substantial comeback, with old ones being repaired and enlarged and new ones built. Incidentally both popes used this as an example of eastern decadence and impiety. The increase in commerce spurred the rise of warehouse complexes and covered marketplaces. To facilitate governance, new courthouses and bureaucratic office complexes were also constructed.

As Christianity or Islam was a major part of Roman life, new churches were erected to accommodate the spiritual needs of the growing populace. Each city had its own cathedral, based off Roman churches, not western Cathedrals. Usually they were in the middle of a large open air courtyard, typically used as a marketplace in times of good weather. In eastern Anatolia and the largest cities, the main city mosque followed a similar but smaller pattern. Besides the main cathedral there could be dozens or even hundreds of smaller churches serving local districts.


The Church of St. Theodoros Megas in Attaleia​

While the central government and the city management contracted and funded the largest construction works, the citizenry also played their part in building up Roman urban life. Wealthy merchants built elaborate townhouses while local entrepreneurs built cookhouses, taverns, and brothels to satisfy the various needs and appetites of the populace. Local aristocrats, finding their ability to invest in new lands hampered by government regulations designed to protect smallholders, began to invest in the cities. Some of the more enterprising and innovative noble families broke old traditions and began to dabble in trade whilst building small palaces as urban residences.

The largest ethnic group in the Empire was of course Greeks. All of Roman Europe, the western third of Anatolia, and the Anatolian coast was overwhelmingly inhabited by Greeks. Southern Italy also saw a major influx of Greek immigration as Constantinople brought in settlers to take over vacant Italian estates after the Neapolitan war (1416). Turks were the second largest, comprising most of the population in the pre-Caesarea Anatolic and Coloneia themes. As substantial numbers of Greeks had been settled in the regions as well, there were numerous instances of intermarrying. Demetrios Komnenos was the product of one such union.

One potential source of tension between Greeks and Turks was that Anatolian Turks could potentially call on the Mesopotamian Turks to fight against the Greeks, which had been done in the last years of the reign of John IV Laskaris. Initial Turkish acceptance of Roman rule had been gained by Manuel II Laskaris’ concessions, but it was secured by the actions of the Ottoman Turks.

During the fourteenth century, Baghdad had consistently looked eastward toward Persia, consequently caring little about the actions of the Turkmen living near the northern borders. Even though there was peace between Baghdad and Constantinople, Turkmen raids on the eastern Roman frontier were quite frequent. Fighting against a Christian empire, one which had driven their fathers from their homeland, the Turkmen saw themselves as ghazis, holy warriors. They also saw the Turks that had remained in Anatolia rather than participate in Osman’s exodus as traitors to the Muslim faith.

Fanatical and ruthless, these Turkmen committed numerous petty atrocities during their incursions against the Turkish Christian converts. This obviously angered the Christian Turks, but it similarly affected the Muslim Roman Turks, who were not targeted as often or brutally. Usually they merely had to watch as their neighbors, friends, and family members were killed. Also as their Greek neighbors, who fought alongside them against the Turkmen, told them tales of crusader atrocities, it was not long before the Turks living in the east thought of the ghazis in the same way Greeks viewed crusaders. The Greeks had shown them tolerance and mercy; their fellow Turks had shown neither.

When Armenia fell to the Ottomans in the 1380s, Baghdad was startled and dismayed as nearly all of the Turkish population, including the minority who still followed Islam, emigrated back to Roman soil rather than live under the rule of fellow Turks. Mehmed I reined in the Turkmen after the incident, but it was too late. During one skirmish in 1383, a Turkish tourmarch was captured and asked why he fought against his own kind. He replied “I don’t fight against my own kind. I fight alongside them, for I am Roman.”

Other major ethnic minorities in the Empire were Armenians, Georgians, and Vlachs. They were mostly concentrated in eastern Anatolia, settled there as tagma troops. Cilicia was almost entirely Armenian although due to long involvement in the Empire, other communities were scattered all throughout the Roman domains. Earlier in the fourteenth century, there had been a decent sized Cuman community in western Anatolia, but it had largely been absorbed into the surrounding Turkic-Greek populace. Once they had dominated the skythikoi troop type, but by the end of the War of the Five Emperors the category held soldiers from all the Empire’s peoples. In the Syrian theme, there were also large numbers of Kurds and Arabs. While the Arabs were underrepresented in the army and bureaucracy, the Kurds were employed frequently as akritoi.

The Empire was more homogeneous religiously than ethnically. The Greeks, Georgians, Vlachs, and most Turks followed Orthodox Christianity. The Armenians had their own rite, which was accepted provided that they did not have communion with Rome. Byzantium had had issues with heretics before, being largely intolerant, but the sack of Constantinople and the Exile, as the 1204-1272 period was called, changed that intolerant viewpoint. Now the attitude was “so long as it isn’t Catholic, it’s okay.” While Constantinople certainly preferred Orthodox subjects, eastern Christians were acceptable so long as they were loyal to the Empire and unsympathetic to Catholicism.

The previously monolithic view of heretics held by the Romans was now split up into three categories. The first were the ‘noble’ heresies. These were heresies that were of eastern origin and popular amongst large segments of both Imperial citizens and eastern Christians as a whole. The Armenian, Coptic, and Ethiopian churches fell into this category. These heresies were still considered incorrect, but were acceptable in the fabric of Roman society and were to be converted through the same soft-sell approach pioneered by Manuel II to convert the Anatolian Muslims. Roman rejection of its past tactics of using forced conversions was a direct counter to the Catholic forced conversions enacted during the Exile, which had failed miserably. The superiority of the Orthodox over the Catholic was to be shown by its conversion of heretics through kindness in a manner befitting Christ, not through the sword in a manner befitting barbarians.

‘Minor’ heresies were not so called because of their beliefs, but because of their size. These included Bogomils, Paulicians (Asian Bogomils), and Manicheans. Because of the small number of adherents the loyalty of these faiths was not essential to the well being of the Empire. They were persecuted to some extent, the state using their unorthodox beliefs as an opportunity to levy more taxes. While allowed their own clergy and small churches (which had strict size restrictions and required building permits with high fees), members were not allowed to own horses, had to pay an inheritance tax on all wills (Orthodox followers, noble heretics, and Muslims only had to pay an inheritance tax on wills valued forty hyperpyra or more), and paid double on head, ship, and stall taxes.

The third was ‘western’ heresies, at this point Catholicism. While the Empire did business with Catholic merchants and diplomats, they were not wanted as subjects and Catholics were heavily encouraged to either convert or move out of the Empire. They could not build churches out of stone, own horses or oxen, and every single Imperial tax was doubled (not even minor heretics had to pay double on land and property taxes-the largest ones in the register). Catholics were barred from living in several cities (this ruling applied to the few Catholic citizens of the Empire, not foreigners), including Athens, Attaleia, the island of Chios, Corinth, the island of Cyprus, Nicomedia, Sinope, Smyrna, and Trebizond. The pattern was specifically designed to keep them out of the most profitable industries and export markets in the Empire, such as alum, mastic, jewelry, textiles, and sugar. By this point it was a Roman proverb that the best way to hurt a Catholic was to hit them in the moneybag.

Muslims were treated similarly to followers of ‘noble’ heresies. Approximately ten percent of the Empire’s populace was Muslim, concentrated in the Syrian and Coloneia themes, mostly in the countryside. The only discrimination Muslims suffered was that a building permit and fee were required to construct a mosque, and that mosques could not be taller than the tallest church in the same settlement. While the uppermost tiers of the bureaucracy and army had almost no Muslims, below that the followers of Islam were represented proportionally to their segment of the populace. One would not find a Muslim strategos, but Muslim tourmarches were not unheard of, and Muslim drungarioi were fairly regular in the Coloneia and Syrian tagmata.

Jews occupied a point in between ‘noble’ and ‘minor’ heresies. Central and southern Greece was home to a substantial Jewish population scattered amongst the towns, which was predominantly involved in the textile, glasswork, and jewelry industries. Unlike western Europe, Jewish moneylenders were extremely rare, removing that one source of anti-Semitism from the Empire. The rules for building synagogues were identical to the rules for building mosques. Unlike Muslims, the Jews did have to live in ghettos, but these were simply districts where only Jews could live and the only place Jews could live (Muslims often lived in their own districts centered around a mosque, not because they were forced to but due to the fact that Christians did not like having their sleep disturbed by the call of the muezzin). Many Jews preferred it that way as it allowed the Jewish population to resist assimilation and conversion better than the Muslim population. Jews did have to pay an inheritance tax on all wills and also were required to pay a synagogue tax levied every five years at the beginning of each tax cycle, equivalent to one half of the property and land taxes regularly owed by the Jew.

Changes in Roman practices during the Laskarid period also affected areas of culture. One feature of literature had been that it was usually done in classical Greek, rather than the vernacular. This tradition died during the Laskarid period. The main cause for such a dramatic shift was the Laskarid reformation of the bureaucracy and army. All government employees and army officers had to be able to read vernacular Greek as the employees had to be able to read and fill out records and forms and all officers had to be able to read the military manuals, of which Theodoros II’s On War was the most used, that were part of their officer training. Regular soldiers were also encouraged to learn how to read and write. Also the widespread use of paper, even before the invention of the printing press, encouraged the production of books for a wider audience.

Since they were typically drawn from the ranks of commoners, bureaucrats and officers learned vernacular but not classical Greek, which was only understood by upper class scholars who could afford special tutors. At the same time native manufacturing and trade was encouraged by the Laskarids to lessen dependence on Italian imports, stimulating the growth of the artisan and merchant classes, which were also literate in vernacular Greek since their occupations depended on the ability to read contracts and inventories. The combined result was a relatively large class that was literate in vernacular but not classical Greek. As a result of this development in literacy, more and more literature was written in the vernacular, although among some Roman scholars classical Greek remained a stubborn holdout well into the 1400s.

One of the most popular pieces of Roman literature was the epic poem Digenes Akrites, about a mixed Greek-Arab marcher lord living during the Macedonian dynasty. There was a second later version that appeared in the 1330s, where the poem began with three Turkish brothers capturing three Greek sisters in a raid. Enamored by their captives’ beauty, the Turks defect to the Empire, convert to Christianity, and marry the sisters. The hero of the poem is the son of the youngest Turkish brother and youngest Greek sister. After that point, the two versions of the poem were virtually identical.

Alongside the two versions of Digenes Akrites was another epic poem (and a later prose version) called The Three Soldiers, which first appeared just a few months before Timur’s invasion. Set in the mid-twelfth century, its heroes are three former soldiers in the Byzantine army and close friends-the Greek Jason, the Vlach Mircea, and the Turk Ali. The tale follows the adventures of the three as they travel throughout the middle east, with one chapter devoted to their job as guards for a trade caravan to India and the wondrous sights they see, including a city of rubies.

Besides their excursion to India, the three soldiers defend Damascus from the Second Crusade, infiltrate the fortress of the Hashhashin after losing a bet, battle corsairs in the Red Sea, meet a young Saladin, and more. The poem, which is set almost entirely in Muslim lands, is very sympathetic to the followers of Islam. The wise cracking Damascene blacksmith, the beautiful triplet daughters of a Damiettan merchant (with whom the three soldiers engage in consensual but unchristian behavior), and the kindly and forgetful old imam of Mosul, are all recurring secondary characters.

While not all Muslims are portrayed favorably, none of the Catholic characters are. While the Catholics are brave, they are stupid, greedy, ill-tempered, intolerant, and brutal. The three soldiers meet the Damascene blacksmith after saving his daughter from being raped by crusader raiders. Overall the poem is a mixture of action and comedy, and it immediately became popular, especially amongst the soldiers serving in the civil war.

The poem also represents something new in Byzantine literature. The piece is designed to entertain, not to moralize. The three soldiers repeatedly sleep with the merchant’s daughters even though they are not married, but are never condemned for it. Priests and monks are the usual butts of the jokes told by Jason, Mircea, and Ali, who regularly engage in gambling and drinking. Most of their adventures begin with the trio getting into trouble because of their gambling/drinking habits and then having to find a way to get out of their predicament.

The Three Soldiers is widely considered to be the first popular sign of the ‘eastern philosophy’ that would play a major role in Roman political and cultural thought in the fifteenth century. Basically the philosophy argued that Orthodox followers had more in common with Muslims than with Catholics, due to their shared role in preserving and being influenced by the knowledge of antiquity, and by their common fate of being victims of the Catholic west in the form of crusades.

This philosophy was never consistently followed, mainly due to the fact that the Empire did have good relations with several Catholic states. However it was still encouraged by Byzantium’s foreign relations in the 1400s. In the several wars the Empire conducted with Muslims, none assumed the character of a holy war with one arguable exception. In the east, the Empire’s wars were conducted for political and economic reasons; the religion of the enemy was purely incidental. However in the west, the wars waged by the Empire were often flavored by elements of crusades, although they varied in degree.

The shadow of the west helped spark certain developments in Roman culture. The beginning of the Laskarid period had been a time of great trauma for the Greek people. No longer could they blithely assume that the westerners were mere barbarians, for those barbarians had taken the Queen of Cities itself, against which all of Islam had battered itself in vain. After Constantinople had been retaken Roman authors began to look toward long dormant ancient Greek literary forms as a way of reaffirming Roman superiority as the bastion of civilization, as opposed to the unlettered Latins.

One such revival was in the realm of romantic poetry, with several romance novels appearing in the fourteenth century. The earlier ones drew heavily on ancient Greek models and were set in the ancient Mediterranean and peopled by individuals from Greek mythology. Most were however set in Byzantine times, varying between the Macedonian, Komnenid, and Laskarid periods. Like The Three Soldiers, Catholics were often the villains. In Kallimachos and Rodamini, written by a Cypriot, the tale is about the quest of two lovers to be reunited after Reynald of Chatillon’s devastating attack on the island. After decades of struggle, the two are reunited after the Battle of Hattin, in which Kallimachos fought as a member of Saladin’s army.

The Laskarid period saw the creation of several histories and chronicles, which were often written for public consumption. Even the great court historian John Pachymeres, who participated in many of the events he recounted and was a tourmarch at the Battle of Manzikert, wrote in the vernacular. The world chronicle, which began in Genesis, grew out of favor as the Roman people wanted to hear more about their own specific heritage rather than that of the hostile outside. Roman chronicles, which started at the founding of Rome by Romulus, took their place. However most works were much more concentrated, typically covering the reign of one Laskarid emperor. Nicephoros Planoudes pointed the way for future Roman historians when writing his biography of Theodoros II Laskaris in the 1290s, using the substantial records of the bureaucracy as sources.

An emphasis on historical accuracy was the result of the influence of several military treatises in circulation during the period. While some significantly predated the period like Maurice’s Strategikon, both Theodoros II and Manuel II wrote treatises of their own. These were used in officer training and were utilized based on their relevance to the Laskarid army. Accuracy was key as to improve their usefulness to the army. With the decline of classical Greek as a literary language, classical stylistic elements also fell away, with an emphasis on clear language and modern information and examples. For example, John Pachymeres referred to Timur’s army as Timurid, Chagatai, or Persian, all of which were appropriate, but never classical labels such as Scythians or Huns.

Another impetus for the emphasis on accuracy in scientific and historical studies was the large university system that had grown up under the Laskarids. Starting with Anna’s second founding of the University of Constantinople in 1330, by 1414 there were also universities in Antioch, Thessalonica, Nicaea, Smyrna, and Trebizond. They were designed to help support the bureaucracy with fresh minds, and that bureaucracy was mainly used to maintain the military and economic supremacy of the Empire over its neighbors, through efficiency of operations and superiority of equipment and knowledge. The universities became another buttress designed to secure Roman supremacy, this time in the field of academics. Hence there was an effort to push beyond the knowledge of the ancients, through the study and observation of the natural world with the use of experimentation. This early scientific method was vindicated with the success of the plague report from Antioch.

In 1414 the University of Constantinople had seventy chairs, with schools of law, philosophy (included basic scientific and historical components), medicine, mathematics (included engineering components), astronomy, and music. The philosophy degree was the most difficult and prestigious to acquire, because of the broad range of knowledge required. Each of the smaller universities had the same schools as Constantinople, although with less chairs. Some universities specialized in certain fields. Trebizond’s School of Mathematics was the most prestigious, while Smyrna was the center for astronomical studies.

Antioch’s School of Medicine was renowned, even before the submission of its plague report. It produced many illustrious physicians who served strategoi, governors, and bishops. The most famous alumni was George Doukas, firstborn son of the Emperor Manuel Doukas and Archiatros ton Athanatoi, Chief Physician of the Immortals. Its reputation spread even to Muslim lands and many prospective Muslim doctors received their training in Antioch. While Roman Muslims were proportionally represented in the student body at the School of Medicine in Antioch, when added with foreign students about one third of the students there followed Islam. This caused some issues with the Orthodox church, but in 1351 the head of the school Stefanos Balamas had responded to the complaints of the Bishop of Adana with the answer that ‘we deal with the body, not the soul’.

The universities were public institutions, funded by the state with cash subsidies and land endowments. However student fees were kept high so that the government did not operate them at a loss. Cheap but low quality housing was constructed near the various university complexes to service the students, around which sprang up low-brow cookhouses, taverns, and brothels. For their degree in a specific field, students had to take introductory courses in all the schools, second level courses in a field that was not their primary choice, and then work their way up to the advanced courses in their chosen field. This was often a fairly expensive process that typically took five years.

There were government scholarships in place for those students who demonstrated ‘admirable quantities of the three great qualities-honesty, loyalty, and wisdom’. Those recipients would have the government pay for their schooling and housing, provided that they maintained the three great qualities; if they failed at any point they would have to reimburse with interest the government’s money. In exchange the scholarship receiver would sign a contract stipulating that they would work for the bureaucracy for no less than twenty years, beginning after graduation. In this way the central bureaucracy was able to secure the best and brightest young minds for its own. And by the time their contract expired, those individuals were well entrenched in the bureaucracy and unlikely to defect to the clergy.

The church had lost most of its hold over higher education after the fall of Constantinople. Theodoros II had been determined to make sure it did not regain that hold. He wanted the bureaucracy to be loyal to him, not the nobility or the church. The church did maintain its own schools, training individuals to join the clergy, but they paled in size compared to the secular universities.

The church had also declined somewhat in importance during the Laskarid period. While the Orthodox faith was still of immense importance, the church was no longer as prestigious. While many new churches and monasteries were endowed, including several new central cathedrals, the Laskarid Emperors had focused their patronage on the construction of roads, aqueducts, sewers, hospitals, schools, and orphanages. In many areas, such as in the construction and maintenance of hospices for beggars, the government had taken over the traditional church duties of social welfare. Wealthy merchants, officials, and nobles often followed the Emperor’s example, building schools or marketplaces rather than another church. Ambitious young men typically preferred to go to secular universities, hoping for government scholarships, rather than attend a clerical school or join a monastery.

Both public and private patronage was responsible for the network of secondary school systems throughout the Empire. The ones endowed by the state, concentrated in the larger cities, were treated largely like miniature universities although without any sort of scholarship system. Private schools tried to operate with a profit margin and were subsequently more expensive, but were much more common. One of the marks of a true Roman city at the time was that it possessed at least one secondary school. These schools were treated as university preparation centers, giving their students introduction and early exploration into the subjects taught at university. Approximately ten percent of the students were female.

Women began to assume a more public role in the Empire beginning in Laskarid times. The development of trade fairs centered around the tagma and tourma reviews actually helped to increase the status of women. It became quite common at these fairs for the husbands to attend the review while the wives would set up stalls and sell agricultural products, with the more capable ones using the proceeds to branch out into other product markets. On average, one quarter to one third of stalls at a tagma/tourma review fair were operated by women. Since acting as anything more than a purely local merchant required greater academic skills than those taught at primary school, many women attended secondary school to acquire the necessary learning. Women were barred from attending university, although some university professors were willing to teach female students as private tutors, although that was expensive.

Primary school was a purely private arrangement. Sometimes there were private schools endowed by a wealthy patron, but more typically the primary school was actually just a tutor, setting up a business in a particular village or city block. All primary school tutors had to have graduated from a secondary school. In primary school, basic reading, writing, and mathematics were taught. Here approximately one third of the students were women. Again the army led the way, as husbands needed educated wives who could run the estate while they were on campaign. And as educated wives became mothers, they made sure that their daughters and sons were educated.

With the growing emphasis on education and the scientific method, the typical subjects of art changed. Religious themes remained common, but naturalistic scenes or historical reenactments became common amongst mosaics and paintings created for secular buildings such as mansions or schools. Encouraged by the development of mathematical knowledge and the desire of the medical schools for accurate three-dimensional pictures of medical procedures, some Roman artists began experimenting with perspective in order to create a realistic 3D image. It was a technique that would quickly be adopted to great effect amongst the artists of the Italian Renaissance. In the Empire, it would culminate in the exhibition of The History of the Roman Empire in Art in the 1480s.


Painting of St. Theodoros Megas, from the wall of his monastery at Manzikert.

The cult of Theodoros II Laskaris Megas began almost immediately after his death in 1282 and remained exceedingly popular throughout the Laskarid period. The patron saint of Roman soldiers, he was also highly venerated by civilians. Many of the Laskarid era churches and monasteries were devoted to him, the most famous being the monastery founded by Demetrios and Manuel at the battlefield of Manzikert. His reputation was deliberately fostered by his successors and he was viewed as the epitome of a good Emperor, toward which all others should strive. The intense love the common people felt for this emperor and saint can be easily understood by his supposed last words to his son and future Emperor John IV.

“Go, my son, and create a world where our people can live without fear.”

April 7, 1422, Roman Armenia:

The air stank of burning flesh. Necdet glanced around, the smoke from the charred buildings gnawing at his throat. The plumes of smoke swirled around him in a macabre dance, dancing to the beat of the wind. Their background was the collapsed, charred ruins of the mill scattered along the edge of the pond, draped in the corpse of a nine year old girl and a dog. To the sides lay the homes of the villagers, every one a pile of charred timbers. They were devoid of bodies.

Those were ahead, in the burned out ruins of the church. With a creak, the last few standing timbers crashed to the ground. Underneath them were the rest of the bodies, over three hundred. The fire had eaten their flesh; only their bones remained. Surrounding the charnel house lay about four dozen more corpses, covered in burn marks, some as black as the smoldering timbers under which they lay.

A gust of wind carried more smoke into his nostrils, causing him to cough just as something bumped his leg. He looked down. “What is it?” Iason called, glancing over at the koursore. Necdet picked it up with his left hand; his right held his spatha. It was a garland of flowers, tied together with a blue silk ribbon. “It’s a wedding wreath.”

“We’ve got one alive!” Stefanos yelled. “Come help me!” Necdet dropped the wreath and the two soldiers ran, jumping over bodies, Necdet noticing the slash and puncture wounds in several of the corpses. The Greek soldier was grunting, trying to lift a piece of timber lying atop what appeared to be a young Turkish woman. Burn marks cut across her face and body, three flower patterns seared into her chest. Her silk dress had been burned off, but those had remained. All of her hair had also burned away.

With Necdet’s help, they threw the timber off. Iason gently lifted the woman to a seating position, wrapping a cloak around her. Her eyes flickered. “Water, give her water,” Necdet said. Stefanos pulled out a leather canteen, dribbling a few drops onto her lips. Her eyes opened. “Where…who?”

A shadow fell over her, then receded as their dekarchos Mircea squatted. “It’s okay, milady. You’re safe now. The Turkmen are gone.”

She blinked. “Safe…who?”

“We’re a koursores kontoubernion, Manzikert cleisurae. Don’t worry, everything is going to be fine. An archiatros is on the way.”

“No, is, is my daughter alive?” she moaned. “My Mahperi?” The Vlach glanced up, looking at the soldiers combing the field for anyone living. They shook their head no. “Is she? Is she?”

“I’m sorry, milady, but-”

She staggered to her feet, grabbing at the arm of the soldier standing behind her for balance. “No, no. I have to find her.” She grabbed the dekarchos, the cloak falling off of her shoulders. “You have to help me find her!”

Necdet picked up the crumpled woolen cloak and gently draped it over the woman’s shoulders. She didn’t notice, her desperate eyes boring into the dekarchos. “Very well, milady,” he said. “How old is she?”

“Just eight months.”

“Very well. Men, find her daughter.”

Necdet turned to leave, but the woman then grabbed his arm. “No, help me. Please.” He nodded. They started hobbling through the piles of dead. After just a minute, the woman collapsed in front of a pile of four corpses, alongside which lay a pile of coral beads, the remains of a necklace.

Necdet squatted down next to her. “Are you alright?” She was shaking. He gently wrapped his arm around her shoulder, gently holding her. “It’s going to be alright,” he whispered.

She shrieked, an piercing wail erupting from her mouth, then collapsed onto the ground, sobbing. Necdet could make out the words “my sister”. Then she leaned forward, lifting the arm of the body to pull something out from under it. It was the completely blackened body of a baby. She shrieked again, clutching the infant to her chest, screaming “Mahperi!”

“Hey! Look what we found!” Necdet looked up to see two other soldiers, dragging a Turkman by the hair into the clearing. “He must have been unconscious and left for dead.” They dropped him, his head bouncing off a rock. The man yelled in pain.

Mircea walked over, glanced down, then looked back up. “Kill him.”

The Turk laughed. “Go on, kill me. I will go straight to paradise, and spend eternity in the arms of virgins for my service to the jihad.”

One of the draggers squatted down. “My name is Mehmed. I don’t know about you, but I worship Allah, and he does not grant paradise to those who murder women and children.” The woman was still shaking, clutching the blackened loaf of her child to her seared chest, ignoring the whole thing. Mehmed stood up, drew his spatha, and swung. The head flopped to the ground, the body falling next to it. A few drops of blood, flung by the blade’s motion, flew onto a smoking log. For a second they crackled, the smoke dying for a second, and then resumed.
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Part 4

In The Shadow of Timur


"Although Timur's empire in the west did not long outlast him, such a man as he is impossible to forget. Beyond the mass graves and ruined villages, he left a psychological scar on both the Roman and Ottoman Empire, an image of a demon sent from hell to terrorize the world of men. Even today, five hundred years later, both Greek and Turk, in times of darkness, will call out 'To arms! Timur is at the gates!'"-Excerpt from In the Shadow of Timur: West Asia from 1411 to 1453.

1422: The number and size of Turkmen raids against Roman Armenia and the Coloneia theme continues to escalate, despite the fierce resistance of the troops stationed there. No matter how many Turkmen are killed, more keep coming, growing more and more ruthless (a trend that is matched by Roman treatment of prisoners). Osman II continues to ignore the attacks; to bring the Turkmen to heel would likely require a military campaign that would delay his planned attack on Gilan and he is able to gain some revenue from taxes on the loot and slaves acquired during the raids.

Osman’s apathy is what inspires the Turkmen to escalate their attacks. When Osman established his benign neglect policy regarding the raids, they were infrequent (one or two a year) and rarely had more than a hundred participants. Also at that time he had been more concerned with securing northern Mesopotamia than not annoying the Romans, who had still been in the War of the Five Emperors at the time. Now the attacks usually number anywhere from six to twelve a year and sometimes have contingents eight or nine hundred strong. Osman remains largely ignorant of this due to lack of effort on his part; all of his energy is fixated on building the armies of southern Mesopotamia that will allow him to fulfill his Samarkand oath.

By this point, there is a substantial divide between the Turkmen of the north and the regular Turks, one that has been growing ever since the exodus from Anatolia. Most Ottoman Turks live along the Tigris or Euphrates, either in the cities and towns or overseeing plots of land producing cereal crops (trade is dominated by non-Turkish peoples, primarily the Arabs of Basra). They are much more closely tied to the central government in Baghdad and are organized based on their city or province as their tribal organizations had been largely destroyed in the exodus from Anatolia (a fact that made Osman and his heirs trust them more).

The Turkmen are pastoralists, operating on the fringes of Ottoman society (Arab tribesmen farther south are in a similar position), and are organized into tribes and ruled by chieftains, who owe military service to Baghdad. Their tribes had emigrated from Anatolia largely intact, pledging their services to Osman and his heirs to avoid Roman conquest. Relegated to the poor periphery away from the centers of Ottoman power, the Turkmen tribes view their exodus from Anatolia as an expulsion from paradise, and they consistently have contested the verdict. In contrast, most ‘sedentary’ Turks have prospered in their new land (again unlike the Turkmen) and thus do not view the loss of Anatolia as any great sorrow.

Turkmen excesses had already cost Baghdad the sympathy of the Anatolian Turks. Mehmed the Conqueror had managed to curb those efforts, but his progress had been destroyed by Timur. The ‘sedentary’ Turks suffered terribly at his hands and view him as a monster. Many of them feel as Osman does, that Samarkand and Timur’s grave must be destroyed. However many of the Turkmen joined with Timur when he launched his invasion of Rhomania and served him faithfully since then, viewing him as the best chance of regaining the lands of the forefathers. That even he failed them in that regard has only made them more bitter.

Timur had left the Turkmen intact in his earlier campaigns which had been focused on wealthier regions. Despite his failure to conquer Anatolia, they still remember him fondly and want the Ottoman sultan and people to resume the jihad against Constantinople that Timur had begun. Timur had never viewed his attack on Rhomania as a holy war, but as punishment for violating a pact and later as a defense of his realm, but to the Turkmen it was a jihad. A common criticism voiced by the ulema of Baghdad and Basra is that the Turkmen spend all of their energy on the lesser jihad (the external war against infidels) and none of their time on the greater jihad (the internal war against evil thoughts).

In early April, three raids pour across the border simultaneously, each one two hundred strong. With those attacks tying up the banda another band, seven hundred strong, enters Roman Armenia largely unopposed. One of the first targets it hits is the village of Adilcevaz, largely inhabited by Christian Turks. Virtually all of the villagers are in the church celebrating a wedding. Since the other three Turkmen raids are being dealt with, the villagers do not post any guards, allowing the raiders to achieve complete surprise. Before the villagers realize what is going on, they are barricaded inside the church which is set afire. Most are immolated inside, the few escapees being cut down by the Turkmen. The rest of the village is burned to the ground after being thoroughly looted. Out of the four hundred and six inhabitants, one survives.

The atrocity of Adilcevaz utterly enrages the inhabitants of Roman Armenia and Coloneia. In Constantinople there is an uproar (the message had been conveyed by fast courier ships stationed in Trebizond who received fresh rowers at way stations along the Black Sea coast to increase their speed). Osman must be compelled to rein in his subjects, by force if necessary. By this point the Anatolian tagmata have recovered a good portion of their losses from Manzikert, although all of them still are not quite at full strength.

Demetrios’ plan is to call up the Athanatoi and the Thracesian tagma and go to Armenia, dispatching a request to meet with Osman. He will have enough troops to show the sultan he is serious, but not enough to be a threat. However in the meantime, he orders the border troops to stay on their side of the border; he wants a negotiated settlement, not a war. If Roman troops start counter-raiding across the border in force, it might provoke Osman into marching north with an army.

The order to hold is ignored by the border troops, who want blood. Their officers feel the same way. The Armenian and Coloneian banda pour across the frontier, spearheading an advance composed of the Armenian cleisurai and the Coloneia tagma, over eleven thousand men. The local Turkmen contingents that attempt to stand in the force’s way are swept aside, the turkopouloi working to pin the enemy horse archers so that they can be smashed flat by kataphraktoi charges. No prisoners are taken.

Along with the tagma comes the tagma’s artillery train, including eight bombards to replace the older trebuchets, some of which are still in service. This capable force allows the army, commanded by the Coloneian strategos Alexios Palaeologus, to take the town of Hakkari on May 6. The members of the local tribes who helped defend the city and who are members of the Turkmen are executed (the Roman soldiers are not particularly thorough in their background checks). However after that is done, many of the banda soldiers turn on the regular Ottoman soldiers and the local populace, cutting them down where they stand. Alexios orders them to desist, and when they refuse he orders the tagma troops to kill anyone executing prisoners without a written order from himself. They stop. After the situation has calmed down, Alexios has the prisoners transferred north to Theodosiopolis.

Such a threat cannot be ignored by Baghdad, so Osman musters his army at Baghdad and marches north. Due to his desire to take care of this as quickly as possible, he does not wait to gather the southern regiments but takes his professional troops and the regiments stationed around Baghdad, gathering more forces to him as he goes north.

Most of the Ottoman army is maintained via the timar system, whereby fiefs of land are granted in exchange for military service as cavalry. Unlike western fiefs they are not inheritable and unlike Roman land grants, the recipients do have to pay land taxes on their estates. Most of them are medium horse archers, not as fast or maneuverable as Turkmen cavalry, but equipped with light armor and maces so they are effective in melee. Supplementing them are sipahis, professional cavalry units maintained by the sultan as full-time soldiers and drawn from the Turkish population. They are armored with a lamellar cuirass and equipped with bows, maces, and sabers, similar to the skythikoi.

Alongside them are the janissaries, maintained by a ‘human tax’ levied on the non-Turkish population of Mesopotamia (preferably from the Assyrian Christians in pre-Timur days but now their numbers are too small for that). Boys between the ages of seven to ten are taken from their homes and trained by the corps, remaining in the sultan’s service for life. Well disciplined and equipped, trained from childhood, they are deadly infantry and owe allegiance only to the sultan. They are armed with bows, maces, and lances, trained in both missile and melee combat, but are not as heavily armored as sipahis (other than a helmet, metal armor is rare among the janissaries).

These army formations are also supplemented by complements from Turkish and Arab tribes on the fringes who are obligated to provide contingents to the sultan (the Turkmen tribes of northern Mesopotamia fall into this category). In addition there are the azabs, conscripts drawn from the farming and fishing villages dotting the Tigris and Euphrates. Vast in number, they are not well equipped or trained, mainly used in sieges and as fodder in battle.


A Turkman (left) and timariot (right), attired more for mountain combat than for battle in the hot plains of Mesopotamia.

The Ottoman army by this point is large, with the sipahis and janissaries as its extremely capable core. However one of the main weaknesses is its lack of reliable infantry. While the janissaries are very competent, they only number about eight thousand. Most of the Ottomans’ infantry strength is made of undependable azabs. Meanwhile the timariots are capable melee and missile cavalry, but usually lack the training and discipline of Roman cavalry units and none of them are equipped with enough armor to challenge kataphraktoi or even heavy koursores in melee. Ottoman battle tactics mainly hinge on using the azabs, tribal contingents, and timariots to wear down the enemy, tie up their units, and allow the sipahis and janissaries to strike a killing blow against an exposed flank or rear.

Armor, or rather the lack of it, is the other flaw. Mesopotamia does not have much material for making armor, which is very expensive as a result and often imported. Only the sipahi guard personally attached to the sultan is well protected by Roman standards (and still many fall short of the armor worn by kataphraktoi). Many sipahis are less armored than skythikoi and most timariots have little more protection than light koursores. Janissaries fill the tactical role of heavy infantry but have the armor of light infantry. It is a serious issue as Ottoman armies are not able to compensate with a superiority in ranged combat and maneuverable units, as both the Romans and Mamelukes have horse archers to support their heavy cavalry (The Mamelukes do have the issue of unreliable infantry).

The Ottoman Empire had built up a substantial stockpile of armor over the fourteenth century, but it had all been captured or confiscated by Timur to equip his Persian troops. By this point, Osman has not made much progress in fixing this problem. Export of Roman armor is forbidden by law and smuggling attempts have been cut off (often literally) by the Turkmen raids. The Mamelukes, facing internal difficulties and Arabian revolts, are using their own stores of military equipment as is the Delhi Sultanate. The Jalayirids and Persians also refuse to sell since the Ottomans will turn around and use it against them. The last potential supplier, the Vijayanagara Empire, responded to the suggestion by tying several iron bars to the chief envoy and throwing him in the ocean. The Indian Empire, forged in the struggle to expel Islam from the subcontinent, has no intention to strengthen another Muslim state. The lack of armor also adds another impetus to an Ottoman conquest of Persia. It was the foundries of the Persian cities that equipped Timur’s heavy troops.

Meanwhile the Coloneian army continues to sweep south. Every Turkmen male above the age of fourteen in their path is killed on sight, regardless of whether or not they bear arms. There are a few more incidents with banda troops executing prisoners outside of this category, but they finally end when Alexios has twenty soldiers hanged and six officers (including one droungarios) paraded through the camp, tied to a donkey while facing backward, before being subjected to twenty five lashes. His concern for prisoners is not because of compassion, but because of strategic necessity; he does not want to encourage ‘sedentary’ Turks to fight to the last man. Because of crowding in Hakkari, many of the prisoners are shipped back to Theodosiopolis to await ransom. Aside from Imperial authorization, the campaign is unfolding much like a regular Roman raid-in-force, which is a source of great anger to Osman II, who believes this is the prelude to an unprovoked Roman invasion of his lands.

The situation has deteriorated to the point that an Emperor is needed. It is Manuel that sails for Trebizond along with the Athanatoi, calling up the Opsician and Optimates tagmata with orders to sail for Chaldea at once. The Imperial navy is dispatched to the appropriate ports. Six of the Anatolian cleisurai are also summoned, although they come by land and are to gather at Theodosiopolis. The still vigorous seventy-one year old Emperor is eager for one last campaign, protecting the people who had faithfully and unwaveringly stood by him during the War of the Five Emperors.

There had been some tension between the two emperors previously over the Turkmen question. Demetrios had been determined to maintain the construction projects in order to bolster the new dynasty’s prestige and so was unwilling to pay for a major military response. While the Turkmen had staged numerous raids over the past decade, the effective defense conducted by the banda had limited the size and scope of the fatalities and atrocities. In Constantinople they had just been a statistic, and a small and unimportant one at that. Compared to the Empire as a whole, even the most devastating Turkmen raids are puny pinpricks, while a war with the Ottomans would be anything but that.

However the news from the east now demanded that a major military response be mustered. While formidable, the Coloneian tagma is too small to stand against the combined Ottoman army. If the Ottoman riposte punched through the border in force, a peace agreement would be impossible without shattering the dynasty’s legitimacy and prestige, especially since any Ottoman offensive would be heralded by Turkmen riders who had previously heralded Timur’s invasions. If events went that far, war would be inevitable.

In the Emperors’ eyes, the only way to avoid that is to gather a host and reinforce the Coloneian tagma. A significant military offensive on the Ottoman side of the border, although rather expensive, might be enough to cow Osman II into making peace (especially since his Samarkand oath demands peace with the Empire) and force him to curb the incursions. And if the worst should happen and war comes, the army will already be in a good position to make sure it is a short and victorious one.

Traveling with the Athanatoi, he arrives at Trebizond on May 15. The first thing he does there is to order the muster of the Chaldean tagma as well. On May 28, he sets out with the Athanatoi and all three tagmata, a combined force thirty two thousand strong. Passing through Theodosiopolis to meet with the cleisurai, six thousand strong, (and take a look at the prisoners held there) and then Manzikert, he soon comes to the burned-out ruins of Adilcevaz. Nearby is the mass grave of the villagers. Staring at the carnage, he mutters ‘these are deeds worthy of a Timur’. The army sweeps onward, crossing the border on June 6.

On the same day, just south of the village of Ain Sijni, Alexios Palaeologus is challenged by the assembled timariots of Aqra, Al-Hamdaniya, Arbil, Koy Sanjaq, and Soran, a combined force of 12,000 men (given the frontier position of these districts, they have a much larger share of timars than the average) supported by an additional 1,600 from the local Turkmen tribes. The Roman army, somewhat depleted by the need to install a garrison at Hakkari, is 10,500 strong. Alexios, who had been a tourmarch at Manzikert, is not dismayed by the numerical odds. He encourages his men, saying “We are all of us Romans. We fought against Timur and we cast him down, a feat no other people can claim. After such deeds, what can frighten us now? Do not be dismayed at the sight of his slaves, for the master who made them terrible is long since dead.”

The battle commences in the early afternoon with the Roman army facing south, the Turks launching a fierce attack on the Roman center, but the thick armor and broad shields of the skutatoi soak up the arrows. Meanwhile the toxotai shower the enemy horses, while the cavalry that manage to approach the battle line are met with akritoi and their javelins, hungering for Turkish flesh. At the same time Alexios dispatches his horse archers to the periphery, shooting bolts into the Turkish flanks. While the turkopouloi are spread on both wings, all of the skythikoi are concentrated on the west. Their disciplined, concentrated volleys steadily push the Turkish columns to the east, the skutatoi, akritoi, and toxotai curling toward the east as well to help the push. As a result the formerly straight Roman line now looks like a J.

There the timariots are gradually pinned against a small hillock, which is seized by two droungoi of heavy koursores who scatter the Turkmen blocking their path with the support of their lighter counterparts. With much of the Turkish army now sandwiched, Alexios releases his kataphraktoi, sending them straight down the Ottoman throats. At the same time, the skythikoi loose one more volley, sheathe their bows, and charge into the fray. The timariots are flattened, unable to stand up to their heavier opponents. In less than half an hour, the Ottoman right wing and much of the center is shattered, the remainder falling back in disorder. In the two hour battle, the Romans lose 420 men, the Ottomans 5,760 (2,200 of those are prisoners). Because of the lopsided casualty ratio and the exceptional use of terrain and mutually supporting troop types, in the military manuals of the next generation the battle of Ain Sijni is considered to be the pinnacle of military science.


Four heavy kousores. The 'poor man's kataphractos' was commonly used by the Coloneian tagma during the 1422 campaign, as the horsemen were more heavily armored than most timariots but did not tire as quickly in the hot sun as kataphraktoi.

It does not take long before Manuel and Osman hear news of the battle. Manuel makes for the battle site, near which Alexios has camped waiting for the Emperor to arrive. Alexios had served under Manuel at Caesarea (then he was a droungarios) and in the War of the Five Emperors and so is not fearful of meeting him. Manuel arrives at the scene in a quandary; he approves of what Alexios is doing in principle, but he cannot tolerate his violation of a direct order to keep his forces in the Empire. So the first thing Manuel does is issue a formal reprimand, because Alexios had failed to summon the men for their spring tagma review. As a result, the strategos’ pay for that year is revoked, but since Alexios’ share of the loot and ransom money is left intact, the strategos still comes out ahead. Meanwhile the men still are to receive their yearly pay at the next tagma review, but their active pay bonuses only begin accruing starting on the day Manuel arrives as they had not officially been called up.

Osman, of course, is enraged. A sizeable portion of his northern troop strength has been obliterated as a fighting force and now nothing stands between the Roman army and Mosul, the third city of the Ottoman Empire with 41,000 inhabitants (after Baghdad with 85,000 and Basra with 63,000). He continues to hurry northward, but with the loss at Ain Sijni, by the time he arrives at Mosul on June 24 he only has 37,000 men (although he has all eight thousand janissaries and six thousand sipahis), compared to the Roman army of 48,000.

The armies of Osman and Manuel finally meet on July 4, near the town of Bartella. Despite his numerical superiority, it is Manuel who first makes the offer to negotiate; he wants peace. The next day two sovereigns meet at the Mar Mattai monastery, run by an Assyrian Orthodox order. Despite the Turkmen and Timur’s rampages, there is still a respectable Christian population in northern Mesopotamia outside of Mosul. Timur had been largely distracted by the need to campaign against the Mamelukes and Romans and so had not had time to commit most of his usual atrocities. However the burned out ruins of Christian monasteries and villages, next to the mass graves of their inhabitants, still dot the landscape.

Immediately Osman launches into a tirade, condemning Manuel and the Romans for this wanton and unprovoked attack on his domain. Manuel remains silent until the Sultan’s words (but not wrath) are spent and then tells him in gruesome detail about the massacre at Adilcevaz. At the end he finishes “Timur is dead, but his soldiers still roam, following the savage rule of their master. By their hands, he lives, committing the barbarities that your father fought and died to prevent. So tell me, who will you become, your father, or the monster who butchered him?”

There is silence for almost a minute, until finally Osman looks Manuel in the eye and says “My father”. For the next three hours the two sovereigns talk, hammering out a peace treaty. Manuel continues to emphasize the benefits of peace to make sure Osman does not change his mind. Not only does it help secure his northern border, but it also encourages the growth of trade, whereby goods from India travel through the Persian Gulf to Basra, then up the Euphrates and then by caravan to Antioch, a source of great wealth to both empires.

For both sides, the terms are light. The Empire must abandon all territory it seized, including the city of Hakkari, and return all prisoners in exchange for the lump sum of 130,000 Turkish para (gold coins equivalent to 105,000 hyperpyra). Also Manuel promises that the Empire will not intervene in Persia during Osman’s invasion, in exchange for Osman reining in the Turkmen. In an interesting twist revealing the growing importance of trade in Roman eyes, Manuel insists on an additional concession to which Osman agrees without protest. Roman silks are hereby not to have an import tax levied on them when they enter Ottoman soil.

The negotiations are concluded when Manuel gives Osman a gift, a scimitar with the guard overlain in gold leaf and adorned with three rubies, three emeralds, three sapphires, and three diamonds. On the gold leaf is etched in elegant Turkish calligraphy ‘The Sultan Mehmed is my master. He is your master too.’ It is his father’s sword, captured by Timur at the battle of Tikrit in 1403. The warlord gave it to his favorite son Pir Mohammed, causing it to be captured by the Romans at Manzikert when he was killed.

The two armies depart the next day, the Roman army (with the cash) marching toward Theodosiopolis while Osman rides for Mosul, dispatching summons to all the Turkmen chiefs to meet him in two weeks at the city. They all arrive but in an ugly mood, angry over the complete lack of a response to the Roman execution of Turkmen. They are also angry as they wanted a full-scale war with the Empire, where the regular Ottoman army would be brought into action to clear away the banda, allowing the Turkmen to raid richer areas of Anatolia.

Osman is aware of their mood, but is more determined than ever to focus the energy of the Ottoman state to the east, following in reverse the path the Great Seljuks took. At first the sultan is diplomatic, reminding the chieftains of their obligations to provide troops for the upcoming Persian campaign (Osman intends to attack the Emirate of Gilan next year). The Turkmen complain as the ghazis want to strike against the infidel, not fellow Muslims. Osman, by this point, is fed up with Turkmen intransigence. Not only had they nearly involved him in a war with the Roman Empire, but while he was waiting for the chiefs to gather he had received an envoy from Tbilisi, complaining that the Turkmen were stirring up the Qara Koyunlu vassals of Georgia. If the ghazis had their way, he would be at war with both Christian states.

One of the Turkmen chiefs stands to lecture the sultan, criticizing him for his failure to wage the jihad. During the process he says “We are the Faithful. You must follow us and wage-”. There is a thud as the chief’s head lands on the ground, followed a second later by the body. Everyone in the tent stares at the sultan, specifically the blood-stained scimitar, his father’s blade, that had suddenly appeared in his right hand. He growls “I am the Sultan, not you. I will not tolerate the filth of Timur clouding my land and my faith. You will obey me. We will march on Persia and leave the Christians of the west alone. For by slaying only the guilty and sparing the innocent, they have shown themselves to be better Muslims than you.” Although not entirely true, it is the greatest insult he can say to the Turkmen.

The chastened chiefs obey for the moment, but once they are out of Mosul they ride back to their tribes, raising the cry of revolt (a few tribes remain loyal to Baghdad, but they are a minority). The ghazis will not tolerate anyone standing between them and the jihad, even other Muslims. Osman, of course, is enraged at the treachery. Still at Mosul, he calls up timariots from southern Mesopotamia along with the Arab tribesmen of Najaf and al-Muthanna, ordering them to hasten to Mosul at all speed. Meanwhile the timariots already in the north duel with the Turkmen, who have turned to raid with fire and sword the villages of northern Mesopotamia. Convinced of the righteousness of their cause as the only true Muslims as opposed to the shirkers, cowards, and Christians surrounding them, they see no reason to show any more mercy toward their Muslim neighbors than they showed to the Christian settlers of Armenia. Columns of tearful refugees pour into Mosul while plumes of smoke dot the horizon. Osman is not alone in remarking how similar to Timur’s invasion the scene looks.

When the troops from southern Mesopotamia arrives, Osman fields an army of fifty five thousand men, well screened by light timariot cavalry and Arab tribesmen who show significantly more loyalty to the Turkish sultan than the Turkmen. He is also aided by a few reconnaissance reports from Roman officers on the frontier, happy to help the sultan in his task. Despite their bravery and the constant stinging attacks they unleash, the Turkmen have no chance. Organized on a tribal basis with no clear authority above that (the role assumed by the sultan), and having only light horse archers, their bravery gains them nothing as one by one their own villages go up in smoke. All they can do is slow the Harrowing of the North.


Osman II ordering a mixed sipahi/timariot attack on a Turkmen village. The Ottoman sultan (on the heavily armored blue charger) is portrayed at least twenty years older than he actually was in 1422.

Those that die are the lucky ones. All males over the age of eleven and women over the age of sixteen are sold into slavery to the owners of the sugar plantations in southern Mesopotamia, where most of them die because of the brutal workload. The remainder are dispersed throughout the realm, many of the girls provided as wives to unmarried timariots, while three thousand of the children are taken to join the janissary corps. The expansion is paid with the sultan’s share (50%) of the loot taken from the defeated Turkmen. Originally Manuel had wanted all of that returned, but had yielded when Osman insisted that to take back the spoils, he would certainly have to fight the Turkmen. However due to expense and supply consumption of calling up regiments from all over Mesopotamia, plus the destruction of a significant reservoir of light cavalry, Osman decides to postpone his Gilan campaign by a year.

The Ninety Years war is shaken when King Francis I of France takes the step of employing Swiss mercenaries, which became available after the Swiss Confederation and Bernese League signed a formal peace treaty in February. Previously all cessations of hostilities between the two states had been merely truces with term limits. The Long War between them ends with no clear victor as territorially neither gained anything (both had expanded but not via conquest, the most famous being the Habsburg counts joining the Bernese League in 1395). In terms of prestige, the Confederation is the most famous, with its halberdiers and pikemen in high demand as mercenaries. The less populous Bernese, wary of frittering away their manpower on foreign adventures, are not nearly as well known even though their use of gunpowder and combined arms tactics have repeatedly trounced the Swiss.

In April Francis launches a bold campaign, hoping to knock Burgundy out of the war in one massive stroke and hopefully destabilize English efforts to break the Loire frontier. His vast host, swelled with barely trained peasant levies alongside glistening French knighthood, is surrounded by mercenaries from Germany, Italy, and Scotland, although the Swiss are the most numerous and fearsome. His first target is Autun, a wealthy Burgundian city of 26,000, currently filled with supplies for the Burgundian army and artillery, including twenty guns stored in warehouses.

The French army, thirty seven thousand strong, is challenged by a Burgundian force twenty one thousand strong, including three hundred English longbowmen on loan. Outside of the Low countries, Autun is second in size only to the capital of Dijon in the Duchy. The smaller army forces an engagement two miles south of the city, hoping to buy the townspeople time to repair the old walls, which are in poor shape. Neither side attempts to place artillery for use in the battle. The Burgundians want to keep the cannons to defend the city itself, since they have no illusions about winning in the field and do not want to lose the cannons before the siege. Francis, impatient for a victory, does not want to take the time to position the guns on their cumbersome sleds (wheeled gun carriages have yet to be invented, even by the Bourne brothers).

The Swiss immediately attack the center of the line, their ranks of bristling pikes sweeping across the field. The English longbowmen, sheltered in a copse of trees in the left wing, pour flanking fire into the Swiss squares but are too few to halt them. The wind is also blowing in their faces, lessening the effectiveness of their volleys. There are a few Burgundian crossbowmen who also open up on the Swiss, but their positions are exposed. The French knights charge down upon them, the Burgundian chivalry sallying in response. As the cavalry plow into each other, the Swiss battalions make contact with the Burgundian foot.

Almost immediately, they begin to cut through as the Burgundian levies cannot stand against the spiky plow. Squadrons of men began peeling backward in disarray. But the Burgundians have mercenaries of their own and Palatine Zweihanders lumber into the fray, the massive swords cleaving the tips off of the pikes. The Swiss begin to stagger as the Germans grimly hack their way inwards. However by now the Burgundian foot is reeling back all along the line, pursued by French knights who have cut their way through the outnumbered Burgundian horse. A few squadrons retain enough tactical sense to wheel around and strike the Germans in the rear. It is enough; the advantage swings back to the Swiss. The Germans know that they will be shown no mercy by the remorseless Swiss, so they do not attempt to surrender. Every single one of them is killed, but they perish surrounded by a pile of enemy corpses that outnumber their own almost two to one.

The Burgundian army is annihilated as a fighting force, but the French army leaves seven thousand dead on the field (half of them are Swiss). The panicked Burgundian foot is pursued back to Autun, where the inhabitants close the gate but too late. A company of enemy soldiers are already in the city. A desperate attempt by the townsfolk to stop the gates from being reopened is cut to pieces. And then the army rolls in, enraged over its heavy losses on the nearby battlefield. The mercenaries and French both begin a massive sack, gutting anyone who impedes them. Francis does not attempt to stop them, but encourages them and even joins in, ransacking like a common soldier. He sees no reason to show any mercy to those he regards as traitors and rebels.

For two days the people of Autun are given over to a holocaust of rape and slaughter, until finally the thirteen thousand survivors can bear it no longer. They rise up, tearing at their assailants with anything available. Many a Swiss soldier, vulnerable in city streets where they cannot wield their pikes, dies with a townsperson’s teeth embedded in their throats. After five hours of bloodshed, the uprising is put down without mercy. The victorious soldiers wade through the gore which reportedly reached halfway to their knees; not a single inhabitant of the city is said to be left alive.

The city is stripped of everything of value and then burned to the ground. The primary objective of the attack is forgotten as now Francis, the French, and the mercenaries all want to return to friendly soil with their loot. However most of the countryside has turned out in force, determined to avenge the massacre of Autun. While they are not soldiers, the local peasants have strong arms, sharp farm implements, and know the terrain. Every straggler is torn to shreds, the body pieces left on the road in piles.

By the time Francis returns to his capital at Vichy, his army is down to twenty five thousand men. When he disbands the contingents of peasant levies, it is a mere thirteen thousand strong. While he did capture many supplies, powder, shot, and coin in addition to the twenty guns, Francis’ actions at Autun has dealt his cause a crippling blow. There had been a growing pro-French faction in the Duchy who had felt uncomfortable fighting alongside the English and wanted rapprochement with the French sovereign. The massacre at Autun destroys that faction just as effectively as it killed the townspeople. Three days after Francis arrives at his capital, he receives news that Tours has capitulated to an English army. The town fired three cannonballs at the English and then surrendered.

Far to the east, Shah Rukh begins his attack on Shun China, dispatching flying columns up the Fergana valley from his base at Khujand. By the end of the year, he has cleared it of Shun troops, although those only consisted of some scouts, and forced the local rulers into line. The Shun had been suborning the local rulers who had grown rather independent during the Timurid War of Succession and the Uzbek conflict. The loss of their foothold there is a heavy blow to the Shun advance along the Silk Road. This far from China, supplying large numbers of troops is rather difficult, a difficulty that the well-watered and fertile Fergana valley would have helped solve.

While the Romans are occupied with the Ottomans, Lazar begins his invasion of Bosnia. His main justification is the nature of the Bosnian church, which has the dubious honor of being considered heretical by both Catholic and Orthodox churches. Portraying himself as a defender of Orthodoxy against heresy, Lazar sweeps into Zahumlje first, burning churches as he goes. The advance is spearheaded by the Serbian knights, still led by Durad Brankovic. At the village of Cerici, they are challenged by a Bosnian levy that outnumbers them nearly two to one; one cavalry charge sweeps them aside.

Enraged because of the burning of churches and eager to avenge the defeat at Cerici, the Bosnian ban (king) Trvtko III Subic, gathers the full weight of the Bosnian levy at Vrci. Unfortunately for him, his cavalry is only armored in mail, and all of his infantry are peasant conscripts, hardy individuals but not trained soldiers. When the Serbs arrive at Vrci, the Bosnian army launches a fierce attack spearheaded by the men of Vrhbosna, who swing giant clubs with iron heads. The Serbian lines hold under the fierce attack while Durad annihilates the Bosnian cavalry and then charges into the rear of the Bosnian army. At once it shatters, the peasants scattering into the woods, many of them being run down by Serbian light cavalry. Amidst the bodies of the slain is Trvtko Subic.

The rest of Bosnia submits rapidly after Vrci, although the city of Vrhbosna resists for eight days, capitulating after the first known use of Serbian cannon. The Bosnian church is outlawed, its buildings either destroyed or converted into Orthodox structures. Serbian priests are brought in to minister the Bosnian flock, while colonies of Serbian settlers are established at Vrhbosna, Konjic, and Zenica. They are given land in exchange for military service, serving as either infantry or cavalry depending on the size of the estate. Four times a year they are required to attend a ten day review for training, and are obligated to meet individual proficiency tests or have their lands revoked.

1423: The year is forever known as the Year of Victories to the English. Because of Burgundy’s weakness, England puts an army of twenty three thousand men into the field, backed up by ninety pieces of artillery. With such an array behind him Edward Bourne, commander of the Royal Artillery, outdoes himself, capturing thirty eight fortified places in the course of the campaigning. Most had capitulated as soon as he brought the heavy guns into position. The most difficult was the siege of Orleans, but even that city only held out for nineteen days, handicapped by a lack of gunpowder (because Francis had spent the money on mercenaries for the Autun campaign) and a demoralized garrison. Orleans had been the third fortress captured. His final conquest of the year, after being transferred to Aquitaine, is the capture of Toulouse.

Not only is the Loire frontier shattered, allowing English and Burgundian troops to pour into central France, but Francis himself is having extreme difficulty with his subjects. His conduct and those of his troops at Autun hangs like a cloud over his rule. With French townspeople preferring to be ruled by a lenient English king than a bloodthirsty French one, he is forced to rely more and more on foreign mercenaries, predominantly German and Swiss. The sight of foreign troops marching through their streets and fields, which is usually accompanied by some amount of looting even in friendly territory, only encourages their disloyalty.

Thus Francis is unable to capitalize on Burgundian weakness as he has to maintain troops at home to guard against rebellion. The most serious threat is a plot among several leading burghers in Carcassonne to surrender the place to an English detachment in the region, but a dispatch from the burghers is intercepted by a French patrol. Francis has the instigators rounded up, brought to Vichy, tortured for several days straight, and then decides to execute them. It takes a while for him to decide how; he considers hanging or beheading to be too quick and painless. One of his courtiers suggests the ‘Vlach treatment’. Francis happily agrees. The next day the citizens of Vichy look out their windows and see twenty five men impaled on stakes in the city square.

Somewhat brighter news comes from Provence as boatloads of Jews pour into Marseille, fleeing the chaos of the Gunpowder Crusade. Experienced artisans and moneylenders, they are welcomed with open arms by the new governor, Charles Valois, the third son of Francis (and the second in line to the French throne as the oldest brother died of smallpox in 1419). Although he is only eighteen, the tall French prince has already browbeaten the Count of Provence to accept his realm’s formal absorption into the domains of the French crown, proving to be an excellent general in the process. With the arrival of the Jews, he shows himself to be an excellent administrator as well. Using their capital and experience, he expands the wine and coral (used to make jewelry and highly valued by Roman jewelers) trade as well as the textile and glassmaking industry. Amidst the carnage of the Ninety Years War, untouched Provence reaches across the Mediterranean, plying its wares as far as Constantinople.

In the Queen of Cities, after a tavern brawl in Nicaea, Demetrios issues a new and somewhat unusual piece of legislation. From now on, it is forbidden for university students to possess a weapon with a blade longer than three inches. The law also prohibits students from owning maces. Hunting weapons, such as spears and bows, are not prohibited because they have a purpose outside of warfare and because students are unlikely to take them with on a trip to the brothel or tavern.

The reason for this legislation is that many university students are younger sons of soldiers. It is common amongst military families, at least amongst the skutatoi and cavalry troop types, that the eldest son inherits the estate and position as soldier while the younger sons go to university to gain the education necessary for a government position. When they leave home, they are customarily given a sword or mace from their father or older brother who has access to the warehouse system. Previously the government had done nothing, but the increasing number of situations involving young men, swords, and alcohol obviously needed to be fixed.

Anthony IV, Patriarch of Constantinople, the patriarch who helped start and defuse the Patriarch Incident, dies on May 14. His successor is Adem I. While some of his predecessors had had Turkish blood, he is the first Patriarch of Constantinople to be a full-blooded Turk (itself becoming a bit of a rarity after 120 years of intermarriage between Greeks and Anatolian Turks). Only thirty nine years old, he has risen up through the clergy and has a profound distaste for monasteries and monks, as the ones near his birthplace of Amaseia have a well-deserved reputation for corruption.

Just three months after Adem’s accession, Demetrios receives a complaint against the monastery of St. Gregory of Nyssa at Amorium. A minor nobleman named Andronikos Psellos had started investing in the wine trade some years earlier and by now is a wealthy merchant, one of the most successful of a small but growing class of noble merchants (they are drawn from the ranks of the minor nobility, who are more concerned with wealth than with propriety unlike their loftier class brethren). He had been importing Achaean wine into Attaleia to be served in taverns, a potentially lucrative business because of all the Latin pilgrims that passed through the port because of the special arrangement between Constantinople and Pisa.

His success had hinged on owning the whole operation, from the vineyards to the taverns, so that the prices at the taverns could be kept low to undercut competitors (as there are no middlemen). Using his land estates, he was also investing in cattle ranching in the interior, hoping to use the animal products to expand his taverns into an eatery as well. During a business trip to oversee his new vineyards in Morea, he had entrusted a herd of cattle to the monastery for safe keeping, providing the money for their upkeep as well as an additional charge for the service.

When he returned, he went to the monastery and asked for his cattle back. The monks refused, saying that they had been carried off by rustlers. Andronikos then asked for the money back, arguing that since they hadn’t kept his cattle safe, they should not be paid for that service. The money apparently had been stolen as well. However on his way out, viewing the cattle owned by the monastery, he recognized some of the cows as his own. But where his brand would have been, all of them had scar tissue. Claiming that the monastery had robbed him, he eventually took his case all the way to the Emperors themselves.

Demetrios sided with Andronikos, arguing that if the landowner’s cattle had been stolen, the monastery was contractually obligated to replace them with cattle of equal value. Andronikos noticed that the animals he received all had the scar tissue. After the court case, Demetrios revives an old practice of Konstantinos XI. Starting in 1396, he had begun compiling evidence of monastic corruption, a process that had been cut short by his death. This case becomes the first new entry to the old list.

On August 9, the city of Venice bursts into celebration as the last of her sons come home. All of the Venetian prisoners in Roman hands have been ransomed, including those working on the sugar plantations. For a week the city is decked in ribbons and filled with music. Already in the last few years the Republic has made a substantial recovery. Focusing less on the Aegean and Black Sea, Venetian merchants have increased their business with the Mameluke Sultanate, which is eager to encourage trade through its ports of Alexandria and Damietta. Venetians in particular patronize the latter, as in Alexandria they face heavy competition from Genoese and Sicilian merchants and some Greeks who are involved in the Sudanese slave trade.

The trade route through the Red Sea, which benefits the Mamelukes and the Italians, is in direct competition with the Persian Gulf route which benefits the Ottomans and Romans. Some of the wealthier merchants in the Empire have begun suggesting that the Emperors ‘trim’ the competition. Also Venetian merchants are returning to the roots of Venetian commercial prosperity, the salt trade. The Loredan family last year made a special contract with King Francis I, providing salt for the French army.

Giovanni Loredan returns to his home, his back a mass of scar tissues. He participates in the celebration, noting that behind the ribbons and banners, the dancers and musicians, half-ruined churches and homes still remain. His parents try to draw him into the salt trade, but he follows his vows and joins the clergy, traveling to Rome where he quickly comes to the attention of Pope Martin VI for his natural intellect, good management and organizational skills, and charismatic orations. With the pope’s personal favor, Giovanni quickly begins to rise.

1424: In Constantinople, there is a massive celebration as Theodoros Komnenos, son of Demetrios Komnenos, and Helene Doukas, granddaughter of Manuel Doukas, are wed. The young co-emperor, almost sixteen years old, has already started to become involved in government. During his childhood, he had spent much of his time in the docks and markets of Smyrna (where Demetrios and his family often spend the winter months as Demetrios is very fond of his former capital) and Constantinople, and so has a much better understanding and sympathy for commerce than is usual for Roman Emperors.

The preparations had begun a full year before the actual ceremony, with invitations being dispatched to every ruler of significance in Europe and the Middle East. The King of Novgorod-Lithuania, Alexei I, is the most powerful attendee. The Kings of Hungary, Serbia, Vlachia, and Georgia also attend, while Aragon, Genoa, Saxony, Bavaria, Ancona, Urbino, Florence, and Poland all send representatives. Venice is deliberately not invited.

Demetrios and Manuel make every effort to dazzle their illustrious guests. They dine on gold dishes (although they are not allowed to keep them) and are given clothes made from the finest Roman silk. But what most impresses and alarms the attendees is the honor guard for the wedding. Not only are the Athanatoi and the Constantinople archontate called out, but the Thracesian tagma as well. The sight of sixteen thousand men, marching in formation with their burnished armor reflecting the sunlight, is a far more visible reminder of the Empire’s might than any amount of precious cutlery.

Since the fall of the Fergana valley, there has only been intermittent dueling between Timurid and Shun forces, as both sides have been hampered by the barren landscape of Badakhshan. So far, nearly all of the engagements have gone in favor of the Timurid forces. Shah Rukh lacks the heavily armored melee infantry and cavalry which his grandfather had favored after Caesarea, so he is relying on light cavalry archers to sting the enemy forces into submission. If caught in melee against unbroken Shun forces, they are easily cut to pieces, but it is almost impossible for the more cumbersome Shun troops to do so and they use up much less supplies. As he continues to nibble at his enemy, Shah Rukh spends his Wu and Kashmiri subsidies well, recruiting tribesmen from as far away as the Oirats, Sibir, and the Blue Horde.

Finally, thirteen years after making his pledge, Osman II takes the first step toward fulfilling the Samarkand Oath, what will become known to historians as the Great Project. On March 10 he and his armies cross over the border into the Emirate of Gilan. Desperate, the Emir appeals not to the Jalayirid Khan in Fars (who used to be the emir’s sovereign and refuses to help now), but to the Emperors in Constantinople. He offers to become a Roman vassal, provided they prevent his emirate from becoming an Ottoman province. Per the Bartella agreement, the request is denied. Deprived of foreign aid and outnumbered almost seven to one, most of the emirate falls within the year, although the capital Astara withstands an eight month siege, falling in January of 1425.

The Marinid fleet makes another effort to supply the garrison at Cartagena, which has held back Aragonese attempts to take the city for five years, being intermittently supplied by the fleet. By this point the crusader camp has turned into a proper city, called Ciudad de Canones (City of Cannons), well fortified with earthen ramparts that have helped turn back four attempts by Marinid army units to break the siege. It is by now a fairly populous city as well, filled with various shops set up by camp followers and filled with the children of soldiers and the female camp followers.

However in this naval battle the Aragonese are joined by several Portuguese vessels. As the Portuguese advance into the Algarve has dissolved into an indecisive carnage, the Portuguese navy has been made available to the other crusaders in the hope that its aid may break the post-Yecla stalemate. Six of them are retrofitted cargo vessels, equipped with high fore and aft towers to serve as gun platforms, the Portuguese version of the purxiphoi. With the gunnery support of the purxiphoi, the Aragonese-Portuguese fleet is able to drive off the Marinid warships and sink eleven supply-laden transports.

Still the garrison, on its last stores, refuses to surrender. Olaf Tordsson leads the assault five days after the battle. While the giant is still a terrifying sight, familiarity has dulled the shock. No longer can he make a full Marinid army flee in terror as he did at Alarcos. During the attack, which seems to be making progress, punching through the makeshift fortifications erected by the Marinid soldiers behind the breaches, he is hit. Normally his thick armor would have protected him, but the projectile is a lead ball propelled by the latest model of Bernese handgun (it had been sold by the Genoese to the Marinids and shipped to Cartagena in an earlier, successful convoy). Mangling his left arm, he is dragged from the battlefield by his men bellowing “I only need one arm to hit people!” The assault wavers, the Marinids regroup, and the attack is driven back to its starting position.

Three weeks later the garrison capitulates on generous terms. The garrison soldiers must hand over all military equipment, but are allowed to go free without ransom. Several Marinid transports are allowed to dock to take them back to Africa. The local populace does have to be ransomed, but Pope Gregory XII pays a lump sum of 45,000 ducats to liberate five thousand poor prisoners who cannot pay their ransom (this is in addition to the church subsidies the pope in Avignon has continued to pour into the Gunpowder Crusade, the main reason why the three Iberian states have been able to maintain the struggle for so long).

Three months later, another sign occurs that the stalemate may be breaking. The Guadalquivir has seen the most fighting, but still Ferdinand has not succeeded in gaining a foothold in the river valley, until now. On September 4, the garrison at the citadel of Alcaudete sallies out to attack a party of Castilian raiders in the immediate vicinity, but is ambushed and cut to pieces. The Castilian raiders dress themselves in the Marinid gear, bluff their way into the fortress, kill the handful of remaining defenders, and unfurl the Castilian banner from the top of the battlements.

Ferdinand is ecstatic at the news, dispatching reinforcements and supplies from Alarcos as soon as he hears the news. Part of the reinforcement is part of Olaf’s company, including their leader who has recovered from his wound at Cartagena. A Marinid attempt to retake the castle is beaten back by the original captors, but the arrival of the relief column scatters the Marinid troops before they can begin a proper siege. Meanwhile Ferdinand is busy planning an all-out attack on the Guadalquivir for the spring of next year.

The Marinids are not idle either. In Africa, the Cartagena survivors, now hardy veterans, serve as experienced cadres corseting the waves of new conscripts. Genoa continues to pour supplies into Tunis, despite increasing attacks from Hospitaler galleys. By this point the Order and the Republic are in an undeclared war, both parties attacking each other’s ships on sight. As the Marinids gather, building up new armies as they have done before, something new is added. This time the troops will be commanded by the sultan’s heir, his eldest son Mohammed al-Hasan ibn Abu. Nineteen years old, he has already served extensively in the Sahara fending off Tuareg raids, building up his natural expertise in the art of war. To the Iberian troops serving under him, he is known as ‘the Hammer of al-Andalus’.

1425: Mohammed al-Hasan ibn Abu, son of a Christian mother and a Muslim father, of mixed Berber-Castilian blood, lands in Iberia on April 4 at Gibraltar. Forty one thousand men follow. The troops land at the Rock because the Aragonese and Portuguese navies have again gone on the offensive, trying to cut the supply line between Africa and Europe. Genoa is of less help, as the Republic is now officially at war with the Hospitalers and Pisa, while rumors abound that Milan is being encouraged by the Pope (in Rome) Martin VI and Venice to enter the conflict.

His first target is Alcaudete, where Olaf Tordsson and seven hundred men (only the full plate-armored men of his company are present) await the arrival of the Grand Army of Castile, the largest host Christian Spain has ever assembled, crusade or not, thirty four thousand strong. With them are one hundred guns exactly. Adequately supplied by the numerous cities and towns of the Guadalquivir, the Marinids advance faster than the Castilians who have to funnel all their supplies through Alarcos. Years of raids and depredations have turned the region between Alarcos and Jaen a barren no man’s land. The only thing that eats well there are the vultures.

On April 19 the siege of Alcaudete begins, laborers dragging their fifty two cannons into position. Mohammed towers above them all; he stands six feet, five inches, almost as tall as Olaf himself. Alcaudete has a few guns too, and they begin a steady fire against the Marinid guns which is greeted with a vigorous reply. Mohammed orders an assault after three days, hoping that the damage already inflicted and the sheer size of the Marinid army will demoralize the garrison.

In less than four minutes, five hundred Marinid soldiers are killed as they attempt to pour into the breach hammered in the outer wall. Any soldiers that can make it through the gauntlet of enfilading cannonballs and crossbow bolts is awarded the chance to face Olaf in close combat. By the time the corpses around him personally number twenty, the Marinids decide they prefer the rain of missiles, fleeing backward in disarray.

Mohammed cancels the attack, continuing the bombardment and ordering sappers to work. However before the latter can make much progress, red and gold banners appear on the horizon; the Grand Army has arrived. The Castilians advance in high spirits; they are almost all veterans, bloodied in victory against their foe. The Marinids still have the numerical advantage though, and accept the challenge. It is to be the greatest clash between Islam and Catholicism since the Third Crusade.


Alcaudete today. The Moorish citadel was the prize in the largest battle of the Gunpowder Crusade.​

Since they are taking the offensive the Castilians do not have time to build much field fortifications, but they do manage to move seventy guns into position to fire on the Marinid troops (most Castilian guns fire balls weighing less than forty pounds and so can be moved by a team of ten horses, virtually impossible to relocate during battle but still small enough to make positioning in the field prior to an engagement possible).

The Castilians halt before they make contact with the Marinid battle line, beginning a brisk bombardment instead. The Marinid guns that are in position return the fire but they are heavier (thus being more difficult to move and reload) and are outnumbered nearly three to one. The numerical disparity continues to go against the Marinids as the Castilians, now quite skilled with artillery, bring more and more of their heavier guns to bear, adding their weight to the hail of fire.

Mohammed attacks, sending forward waves of Berber light cavalry, which are met head-on by squadrons of jinetes. The combatants swirl around each other, hurling darts, javelins, and arrows; the Marinid army begins a general advance. As the infantry approach, Mohammed dispatches five thousand cavalry on a flanking run, using a small wood to help mask their movements. The infantry on both sides meet with a crash as the killing begins in earnest. Mohammed wants the Castilian line pinned in place and due to the fierce opposition of the Castilian skirmishers, that is only possible through a general melee. Both sides are evenly matched in bravery, but while the Marinids are more numerous, the Castilians are better armored.

As the bodies pile up in the front the flank attack is spotted by the almughavars Ferdinand has posted as flank guards. After spending back a warning, they immediately attack, hurling their javelins at the lightly armored throats of the horses, then whipping out their long knives to slash at their hamstrings. The Castilian knights held in reserve charge into the fray, hacking through their lighter opponents, but then the heavy cavalry Mohammed had posted as support charges into battle as well. Unique among Marinid units, they are armored in lamellar plus a plate cuirass and greaves; the horses are armored in cloth and lamellar (the lamellar is made by Marinid smiths but the plate is Italian produced, imported by Genoa). The Marinid reserves make substantial headway against their immobilized opponents, but not enough to break the battle-hardened knights. Ferdinand throws in his household guard and Maria’s retainers (she is not present but her glaive-men are), prompting Mohammed to send in more of his reserves. Olaf pounces.

The gates of Alcaudete crash open and the garrison sallies, Olaf at the head, aiming directly at the Marinid prince’s banner. He is atop Moorsbane, decapitating the head of the first Marinid horse that gets in his way in one clean blow. The garrison slams into the startled and under-strength rearguard, cutting it to pieces, then plowing into the prince’s guard which is also undermanned because of the men sent to reinforce the flank attack.

Olaf is still in the lead, bowling aside the guardsmen in his path, charging at the prince. Mohammed accepts the challenge, pulling out his own, massive sword as some of the regular Marinid troops turn around to reinforce the guard. The two giants smash at each other, trading eight blows, each one capable of leveling a lesser man. Each one is slightly wounded; Olaf receives a shallow cut to the head while Mohammed is slashed in the left arm. But before either can take advantage, their followers rush in, sweeping their leaders away from each other.

It is all the common soldiers can do to protect their leaders, as they have to wage a battle on two fronts. They have to defend themselves against the enemy soldiers, but also hold back their leaders from charging back into their titanic duel. They manage to win, but barely. Meanwhile the Marinids in the center, without reserves to support them (they had been diverted to defend against Olaf’s sally), are breaking, green units falling back in disarray, infecting other regiments with their panic.

With the pressure on the center failing, Ferdinand himself enters the fray, hitting the flank battle with the very last bits of the reserve. Fighting on two fronts, the Marinid cavalry breaks, and Ferdinand wheels the Castilian cavalry to hit the still fighting Marinid foot in the side. Many of the veteran soldiers, survivors of the Cartagena slugging match, had previously resisted the panic and continued fighting, but now they too begin to retire. However they do so in good order despite their heavy casualties, giving close pursuers a bloody nose for their trouble. Mohammed decides the battle is lost and retires with his troops, forced to abandon his guns in the process. The battered Castilian army does not pursue. The battle of Alcaudete claims the lives of sixteen thousand Marinids and twelve thousand crusaders, including two hundred and thirty men of the Alcaudete garrison.

While it is a crusader victory, allowing the Castilians to keep their toehold in the Guadalquivir, it is not decisive. The victors are in little better shape than the losers. By the time Ferdinand is ready to begin the attack on the first obstacle, the city of Jaen (population 39,000-small by al-Andalus standards), Mohammed has reformed his army which is still quite dangerous as most of his casualties were fresh conscripts, not his veterans (deliberate on his part). Over the course of the campaigning season, the two armies thrust and parry along the river valley, fighting a war of maneuver but not of battles. Because of the rich river valley, neither side has serious supply difficulties, although the Castilians are slightly worse off.

On the other theaters, the stalemate again appears to be in effect. In Murcia, Martin, Prince of Majorca, leads an Aragonese column into an ambush at Aledo. Nearly the whole contingent, three thousand men including eleven hundred knights, are cut to pieces as the badly wounded prince is captured. He dies four days later despite the best efforts of the Moorish physician (he could have fetched a sizeable ransom). In the Algarve, the Portuguese siege of Aljezur, which had been making some progress despite fierce resistance, is shattered when a gunpowder mine is detonated below the commander’s tent, wiping out virtually all the high-ranking officers of the siege. The dispirited men break camp and retreat to winter quarters at Sines.

Far to the southeast, Ethiopia stirs once more. The state had remained quiet since the end of the Adalese war, but Yekuno has never ceased to continue his centralizing efforts. There have been a handful of noble revolts which Yekuno has put down with frightful slaughter due to his monopoly on the knowledge the Roman artisans possess. He makes sure they are well paid but forbids them on pain of death to accept a gift from anyone other than himself. Of the eight, six of them are married to Ethiopian women (they have been there for over a decade now) and have children while the other two are married but without offspring.

Using the tolls levied on caravan trade throughout his realm (Harar provides over half of them), Yekuno has established a military system designed to supersede the feudal Chewa regiments which have an annoying habit of going native and rebelling. It is called the Axumos system, referring to the old kingdom of Axum but with a Greek os-ending because of its similarity to the tagma-theme system in place. An assortment of infantry and cavalry troops are settled on land grants and receive a small payment each year, in exchange for military service (Chewa troops just received land, making them difficult to control by the central government). The soldiers are paid at a three week review in the spring, and they are also required to attend another two week review in the fall. These troops form the backbone of the new Ethiopian army, supplemented by Yekuno’s personal troops, the crossbow militia, the Chewa regiments, and nobles’ retainers.

To the west of Ethiopia, the Shilluk migration is making significant inroads into the numerous petty states of the region. Desperate for aid, some of the local rulers call on Ethiopia for protection, pledging to become vassals in exchange for shelter. Since the area is a sizeable producer of ivory, slaves, and gold, Yekuno accepts, dispatching several small armies into the region. The Shilluk, organized into independent tribes, are not a monolithic bloc, forming coalitions between tribes as necessary and frequently fighting amongst each other.

At Qessan, a coalition of three Shilluk tribes is foolish enough to challenge the Axumos in battle and are swept aside. With the men killed, the women and children are captured and scattered throughout the Ethiopian empire as slaves and concubines. However the Shilluk are still quite numerous and now adapt their strategies. Brave and strong, the Shilluk are extremely dangerous in small-scale battles while their lack of any pan-tribal organizations makes large field battles against Ethiopian forces almost suicidal. So often bands of Shilluk will harry Ethiopian forces, forcing them to remain concentrated so that other bands can raid other areas with impunity. While the ‘war’ is a stalemate, there is still some signs of change as tribute from Sennar begins to allow Yekuno to expand the number of cavalry in the Axumos. Armored in thick cloth and equipped with a lance and a slashing sword, the Ethiopian cavalry is the most effective unit fighting the Shilluk.

The Rightful Pope (in Avignon) Gregory XI, Servant of the Servants of God.


Pope Gregory XI was born Gabriel d’Perpignan in Roussillon, on the border between Aragon and France in 1358, the second son of wealthy vineyard owners. As his eldest brother was going to inherit the estate, he entered the clergy at the age of fifteen. At thirty he was a cardinal, siding with the Pope in Avignon when the Great Schism began. His argument was that Rome was made holy by the presence of the pope, not through any intrinsic quality of its own. He argued that Rome had been the city of Nero; the great Christian emperor Constantine had made his capital in the east ‘where his children still reside’.

In his twenties, Gabriel had gone on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but had wintered in Constantinople on the way home. Having spent several months in the company of Greeks, he is much more tolerant and forgiving of them than most high-ranking Latin clerics. One item that especially impressed him there was that Roman commoners could read the Bible (although the price of books at the time meant most did not own one). When he returned to the west, he encouraged the creation of more bibles for the clergy and laity to read, although he still insisted that only a bible in Latin was proper. Translations could be condoned, but could not be considered completely accurate.

He was elected the rightful Pope in 1404 with very little opposition. From the beginning the man who signed all of his letters ‘servant of the servants of God’ focused most of his energy on caring for the poor. Commonly wearing a homespun, woolen, monastic habit except on special occasions, Gregory daily walked in the streets of Avignon, blessing the poor, washing their feet, and distributing alms. Often living frugally (in stark contrast to virtually all high-ranking clerics), every night he fed a dozen of Avignon’s poor. When he traveled through the realms of Christendom that followed the Avignon papacy, which he did a lot, he would do the same regardless of where he was.

One of his greatest initiatives was the setting up of soup kitchens throughout the cities of western Europe, arguing that ‘if we feed their stomachs, we will feed their souls as well.’ He also set up several church funds to pay for a series of orphanages and hospitals he had built. Because of his continuing efforts to aid the poor, his frugal lifestyle, and his efforts to wipe out church corruption, he was well loved by church reformers who had been regularly arguing against the excesses of the church. Under Gregory’s tenure, they fell silent. Because of the continuing disruption of the Ninety Years War (which he tried repeatedly but ultimately failed to stop), most of Gregory’s handiwork was concentrated in Iberia.

Because most of his projects were located in and bore fruit south of the Pyrenees, the Pope also spent much time there. As a result, he had a far greater understanding of the trials facing the Iberian people than normal Avignon popes who were usually French and concerned with England and Germany or Roman popes who were concerned with the Roman Empire. Thus when his rival issued a call to crusade against Constantinople in 1416, Gregory was quick in issuing a crusade against what he saw as the true threat to Christendom, the Marinids.

The concept of holy war was not something Gregory viewed with great fondness. One of the main criticisms of the various reformers was that the crusade had turned from a ‘necessary but evil’ war to defend Christendom into a club used to hit whoever was currently annoying the pope. In Constantinople, he had seen tolerance and understanding used to convert hundreds of thousands of Muslim to Christianity, a record the Catholic sword was incapable of matching.

Regarding the rationale for the Marinid crusade, he said that ‘Peace and goodwill amongst Christians toward the heathen will show them the righteousness of our faith. In that way they shall see the light. The use of the sword to spread the Word of God will not ensure true conversion in their hearts, but will instead drown it. For why would a man follow a faith that shows him nothing but violence and hatred?

‘It would seem that this current holy war against the Moors that I support is contrary to these sentiments I have just expressed. However it is the nature of great states throughout history to wage war against their neighbors. So long as Islam and Christendom share a common frontier, war is inevitable because of the fallen nature of men. For peace to come between Islam and Christendom in the west, and for the light of Christ to be spread through the path of peace, that frontier must be eliminated. Europe belongs by right to the Iberians and Africa to the Moors. Once the proper order of things is restored, and the waters of the Mediterranean act as a buffer cooling the hot and angry nature of men, then peace will come. And then will come the sanctifying light of Christ’.

Printing's First Decade (1425-1435)

In 1425, Trebizond was a bustling port with almost sixty thousand inhabitants, most famous for its shipyards and the school of mathematics at the university. It was also, after Constantinople of course, the most cosmopolitan city in the Empire. In a single street one could bump into Scots at one end and Kashmiri at the other. Beside the churches (Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian, and Nestorian) and mosques, there was also a small Hindu temple and a Buddhist stupa, paid for by the handful of merchants from India and Kashmir.


The church of Aghia (Saint) Sofia in Trebizond. Ever since the Empire of Trebizond was conquered by Theodoros II Megas in 1266, the city has been the sight of much Laskarid construction, in order to help convince the independent-minded Trebizondians to accept Laskarid rule. Because of this, many Romans in the early fifteenth century consider Trebizond to be the most beautiful city in the Empire, because it has the beautiful architecture of Constantinople without the massive urban slums.

On his fortieth birthday on February 8, Pavlos Apokaukos, one of the richest shipbuilders in the city, received a birthday gift from his younger brother Matthaios, who was a silversmith. It was a copy of Euclid’s The Elements, bound in leather with silver clasps and a silver engraving on the front, showing the ancient mathematician working in a study at Alexandria, the Pharos lighthouse visible in the background through the window (the lighthouse was currently being restored by the Mamelukes). It was the first printed book using moveable type in existence.

The invention of the moveable type printing press, built by the combination of Matthaios’ technical expertise and Pavlos’ capital, immediately found a market. Even with the use of paper, replacing the far more expensive parchment or papyrus, textbooks were far out of the price range of all but the richest students. The average ratio was one textbook for every eight students. Matthaios’ printing press made Euclid’s book affordable for individual students. To lower prices, Matthaios did not provide binding, but only a stack of pages with the buyer providing their own binding. Students typically just wrapped it up in paper, while the shipbuilders who also wanted a copy of The Elements usually purchased a leather, velvet, or silk binding that was often decorated with gold leaf or silver engraving. By the end of the year, the three printing presses that have been set up had provided two hundred copies of The Elements and fifty copies of Apollonius’ On Conics.

Of course there was demand for other works as well from the university students and faculty, beyond what Matthaios could supply. Just a year after the printing press’s invention, the Roman government purchased the specifications for the machine for a handsome sum of money and the right of a printing monopoly in the Chaldean theme to Matthaios. Anyone attempting to print books inside the theme could be prosecuted by the entrepreneur.

The very first thing printed by the new government press was standardized tax forms. With the combination of double-entry bookkeeping (a Milanese invention) and standardized tax registries, the bureaucracy became more efficient and also less prone to corruption and embezzlement. The government press soon expanded to more products. Military manuals, official court histories, conduct guides for courtiers, and later atlases (produced for military officers) and cultural guides on neighboring peoples were all produced. The church, influenced by Patriarch Adem (Adam) who was enamored by the machine, also established its own small printing business, which churned out saints’ lives, prayer books, and bibles (which are written in vernacular Greek, as well as Turkish, Armenian, and Vlach, much to the surprise of western merchants).

In the Roman Empire, with its large and numerous concentrations of literate individuals, the technology of the printing press spread very rapidly. Matthaios abandoned his silversmith business to concentrate entirely on printing, eventually owning over sixty presses scattered over twenty five shops. Even so, he was unable to keep up with demand even in the Chaldean theme. He used his monopoly license to make other printers pay a fee to him for every book printed, but was forced to keep it small so Chaldean printers would be able to operate, rather than going out of business from Optimates presses. Even so, by 1435 he was one of the richest men in the Empire.

The printing press’ immediate success was not only helped by the large supply of Roman readers but also by the nature of Roman culture. With the advent of paper in the 1280s, manuscript prices declined to the point that members that were skilled artisans or above could afford one or two, perhaps more. Book owning became more prominent, mainly consisting of the Bible, a couple of saints’ lives, and perhaps a classical text or too.

The nobility and wealthy merchants as a matter of prestige strove to assemble the greatest libraries to outshine their peers, which was encouraged by the growth of a learned class from the universities. To and fro they scoured the Empire and beyond for classical texts, which is why so many became available for early printing. Instead of hiding in a monastic cache, they were lovingly maintained in a silk merchant’s library. Unlike the west, where a similar book-owning tradition developed in the early Renaissance, it was considered a mark of great shame to not have read and comprehended the contents of one’s library. Scholarship was considered a virtue, another byproduct of the extensive university system, as the best scholars at university had the best chance for advancement in the bureaucracy.

The printing press drastically reduced the price of texts, allowing lower class individuals to purchase books. Many did to elevate their social standing, causing citizens to refer to their neighbors by how many books they owned (ex. Petros is a eight-book man). This is the origin of the phrase ‘two-book man’, meaning a nobody. Someone who could only afford two books after the expansion of printing, likely a bible and a saint’s life, was clearly someone of little learning or wealth.

Book binding was the most expensive part of the new printed text. Paper bindings were the most common, not very durable but very cheap, and were used by students and poorer artisans and merchants. There was a close relationship between printers, leatherworkers, jewelers, and silver/goldsmiths. More expensive bindings for wealthier and more prestigious customers were in leather, silk or velvet and often highly decorated. Many an artist also got a job decorating texts, adding pictures to histories and textbooks. Fancier texts were considered more prestigious than plainer works, even if the contents were identical.

By the time the printing press was ten years old, it was scattered all across the Roman Empire. There were three hundred and twenty private, sixty government, and thirty five church presses. The Georgian capital of Tbilisi was the first non-Roman city to acquire the technology in 1431. It had three presses producing bibles and military manuals. A wave of new literature came into existence, made possible by the press while in 1435 the first printing press in the west opened in Venice.


A Roman printing shop, c. 1435.

Some of the cities began to produce guide books to increase business and tourism in their locales, pointing out ancient ruins, local relics, detailing local ordnances and business opportunities, and suggesting the best eateries, taverns and inns. In Constantinople the city government produced A Guide to the Relics of Constantinople, which detailed the various relics throughout the city, describing the associated saint, the relic itself, and the church where it was kept and displayed. Two years after it was published in Greek, it was translated into Italian and German, turning Constantinople into a regular center of pilgrimage, typically frequented by pilgrims either going or returning from the holy land. In Attaleia, because of the pilgrim traffic, a Pilgrim’s Guide to Outremer was published, detailing the various holy sites and providing information on pilgrim hostels in the region. Translated into half a dozen languages, it was immensely popular.

Advertising also began as businesses could cheaply produce posters and pamphlets extolling their products and services. There was also a growth in children’s literature, mostly educational material such as reading primers (there was still no primary school apparatus in place). However there was still some fun texts as well. By far the most popular was the series Alexios and the Latins, written in simple Greek, detailing the adventures of a quick-thinking ten year old Greek boy in Apulia who repeatedly outfoxes bumbling Latins attempting all kinds of dastardly deeds. Mirroring The Three Soldiers, Alexios has a Turkish best friend named Ebecen and another close friend who is Armenian and named Razmik.

Besides ancient and contemporary literature, some older Roman historians that fell in between the two were also being printing. These included Anna Komnena, Michael Psellos, and George Akropolites. However the most famous and widely read of this category was The Annals of Niketas Choniates, which included graphic accounts of the sack of Thessalonica in 1185 and the Fourth Crusade. A booklet containing those two sections only, titled The Latin Fury, was put into print in 1434.

The blossoming of the Italian Renaissance led to a sort of culture war between the Italians and Greeks. The Greeks fought two battles. The first was over who was the true heir of Rome. To do that, Roman chronicles from the 1300s were dusted off and printed and new ones written, emphasizing the connection between Augustus, Konstantinos Megas, and Demetrios I. Also as part of a government effort, Latin manuscripts popular in western Europe were translated into Greek (often done by Urbinese or Anconans) and printed, so that Greek envoys could beat the Italians in literary contests.

The second was to prove the vitality of Greek culture, to counter the accusation that it was nothing more than the ‘legacy of a race of Roman slaves’. The mass printing of numerous classical Greek texts, far exceeding the driblet of texts the west was familiar with, largely countered the point. John Pachymeres in one of his last writings argued that the modern Roman Empire was in fact superior to the classical model the Italians venerated. He said that ‘the early Romans had only Trojan blood (a reference to the Aeneid) to strengthen them. It was enough for them to do great deeds. But today Romans have both Trojan and Greek blood. The blood of Achilles and Hector, Caesar and Alexander, is in our veins. That is our heritage, not the heritage of slaves but of titans. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and we are their children.’

Valencia, the Kingdom of Aragon, 1426:

Esteve squinted, boring his eyes into the upside down cup. His eyes flicked to the left. “That one,” he said.

“Are you sure?” Bernat asked.

Esteve growled. “Yes, just lift the damn cup!” Bernat did; there was nothing underneath. “Damn it! I thought I had you this time. You must be cheating; you’re hiding it up your sleeve.”

“I’m not wearing any sleeves.”

“Minor detail.”

The two Aragonese guardsmen were sitting at a table set up along the battlements of St. Sebastian, one of the coastal forts guarding the port of Valencia. A few other guards were scattered along the battlements, lounging in the shade. It was a hot day, a few fluffy clouds and fat seagulls gliding overhead. Below the great stone ramparts, light waves lapped against the shore as three merchant galleys slowly beat their way out of the harbors, the beat of the drums and the grunts of the rowers carrying over the breeze.

Esteve scratched the black stubble of his chin and looked over at the nearest soldier. “Hey, Jordi, want to give it a try? Perhaps he’ll go easy on a virgin.” He laughed.

Jordi blushed, looking down at the ground. There was no stubble on his face, just some baby fat. The ‘soldier’ was a boy of fifteen. There was silence for a moment as Jordi shuffled and then looked up, his left lip twitching upward. “At least I don’t molest goats.” Bernat howled.

Esteve scowled, “Why you little… Look at me!”

Jordi’s head darted back to look at the older guardsman. “I thought I saw something.”

Bernat looked out to the sea. “There’s nothing, just those galleys.” Now clear of the breakwater, the galleys were unfurling their sails, their oars slack for now.

“I’m telling you, I saw something.” He squinted. Esteve looked, squinting as well. Was that something moving? The horizon twitched. “Ships on the horizon!” Jordi yelled, his voice cracking on the last syllable. Everywhere men looked out to the horizon, trying to spot them as the wind shifted, now blowing from the east. Below the galley deckhands bellowed curses as the rowers began again.

“There!” Bernat shouting, pointing. Esteve followed his finger, seeing the masts a second later. Those were big ships. Glancing around them, he could see more smaller shapes, galleys by the look of things.

The lounging guardsmen burst into motion like a nest of disturbed ants. Now everyone could see the fleet, and it was a big one. Calls went out, officers bellowing at men to grab their weapons. Esteve grabbed his quiver and bow which had been laying to the side, tightening his belt as he did. Jordi was looking at him, swallowing. “Don’t worry, boy. You’ll do fine.”

“I’ve never killed a man.”

“It’s easy. Just pretend he’s a big chicken and gut him.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“Don’t worry,” Bernat added. “Remember, the other guy is just as scared of you as you are of him.”

Nearby an officer bellowed. “Light the ovens!” With the introduction of cast iron shot, an English innovation, King Jaime had instituted a new practice in his coastal forts. The cast iron shot would be heated till it was red hot, then fired. It required delicate handling, but its effect on wooden vessels who couldn’t respond in kind was devastating.

Nearby men were grunting, readying the great cannons that guarded the fort. There were twenty four, four of which fired one hundred and twenty pound balls, potentially enough to break a galley’s back in one blow.

As they did so, men hauling up bags of powder, cannonballs, crossbows, and arrows as men in the barracks raced forward with spears and halberds, they could hear them, the drums. The westward breeze carried the noise, drummers on dozens of galleys beating their rhythm, the oars slicing through the water to the tempo. It was fast, very fast. In front of the fort, the merchant galleys were backpedaling fiercely.

“Who are they?” Jordi asked, staring at the horizon, crawling with ships steadily advancing. The drums were getting louder.

“I don’t know,” Esteve muttered. Those tall ships were odd. They looked like cargo ships, the great ships used by the Portuguese and Genoese when they sailed to the North and Baltic Seas, except different. Their fore and aft towers were taller. Who were they?

Two ships in the incoming armada were pulling ahead. They were smaller ships, lightly constructed, built for speed. Scouts. “Gunners! Ready your pieces!” The shout went down the battlement as well trained crews burst into action. Esteve could see the crews of the great guns laboriously prime their weapon, two burly, shirtless men lifting the great cannonballs the size of a man’s torso. The drums were getting louder.

“Cannon two, ready to fire! Cannon five, ready to fire!” Along the casemate, the call rang out. Over a thousand pounds of shot were now ready to be loosed upon the foe, a small foretaste of hell. “Archers to your position!” Esteve glanced over his spanned crossbow, making sure it was ready with an armor piercing quarrel. Jordi looked over at him, brandishing a halberd, a nervous tic in his eyes. “I can almost make out their standards, on the scouts anyway.” The drums were getting louder.

“Great guns, hold your fire! Culverins, stand by!” a nearby officer shouted.

“Wait,” Jordi whispered. “I can see them now.” Esteve squinted. He could just make them out too. A yellow flag, with a black double-headed eagle on it, a crown above their heads.



1426: The Ottomans commence their attack on Persia proper. While they attack all along the frontier, from the Caspian to the Persian Gulf, their main thrust is concentrated in the north at the Emirate of Mazandaran, one of the wealthiest and fertile regions of Persia. The Jalayirid Khan issues a call to arms to all the states of the realm, gathering his personal troops and marching to Khuzestan. Overall the Persian response is rather incomplete; the Emirs of Yazd and Tabas refuse outright, citing the escalating Khorasan-Kerman conflict to the east.

Osman himself leads the attack into Mazandaran, defeating the Emir first at Roodsar and again at Rahim Abad. However at Chaloos, on the shores of the Caspian, he faces a much more serious challenge, as this time the Emir refuses to sally but holes up in the city, supplied by small vessels plying the Caspian. Osman builds a small flotilla of his own to counter the threat but the Turks are no sailors. It is annihilated as soon as it puts out to sea. Meanwhile the land forces have made little progress against the city’s stout walls as the Ottomans lack a gunsmith industry, forcing them to rely on trebuchets.

There are also a series of sea battles in the Persian Gulf as the Emir of Hormuz enters the war despite his distance from the front lines. Hormuz is a significant trade rival of Basra, maintaining a small fleet of merchant vessels that import spices from the great clearing house of Ceylon to Persia. Basra has attempted to divert the trade into its own port to feed the Mesopotamian and Syrian demand for spices, with some success. Overall the battles go in favor of Hormuz as the Emirate has a larger corps of experienced sailors.

In Khuzestan the battle goes back and forth between the Ottoman and Jalayirid armies. In the open, the former have the advantage, pummeling the enemy without challenge. But fighting in hilly terrain or from small mountain forts, the Turks are bloodied again and again. The Ottoman response is simple and ruthless. The Persian and Jalayirid troops are simply buried under waves of azabs, who with their flesh dull their opponents’ blades and tire their arms, until the sipahis and janissaries are thrown in to begin the rout. The butcher’s bill is massive.

The butcher also demands his due from east Asia. At the village of Yining, Shah Rukh, commanding tribes whose origins stretch from the Crimea to Altai, challenges the main Shun army, sixty two thousand strong. It is composed of the elite palace regiments of Shun China, bolstered by the most experienced Wei troops (semi-professional farmer-soldiers). For five days the armies battle, Shah Rukh slashing the enemy with lighting raids, showering the enemy with fierce hammer blows of missiles and then retiring before the more cumbersome Shun forces can engage. Finally on the fifth day the Wei troops break, exposing the flanks of the palace regiments. As the Wei flee in disorder, cut down by pursuing cavalry, other squadrons pour arrows into the regiments from all sides. By the time night ends the slaughter, over a third of the Shun army has been destroyed, with Shun’s best troops utterly annihilated. The door to China is open.

An joint envoy from Castile, Aragon, and the Avignon Papacy arrives at Constantinople in early March, asking for aid against the Marinid Sultanate. The delegates are greeted with skepticism, as the Empire has no quarrel with the Marinids, nor is it likely to gain one in the near future. The main item the Iberians have to offer is the goodwill of Christendom; Demetrios remarks that that is worth its weight in gold.

It is, in fact, the Papal envoys that turn the tide in favor of the delegation. Not even the Catholic Church can offer enough money to make the Roman Empire enter the Gunpowder Crusade, but the envoys do carry a personal appeal from Pope Gregory XI to the Emperors. It is addressed to the Roman Emperors (typical papal addresses to Constantinople are to the Emperor of the Greeks), recounting the great service the Empire has done serving as a bulwark of Christendom against the tide of Islam.

It ends with an apology for the Fourth Crusade, condemning in no uncertain terms the actions of the crusaders and Venetians. “There is no excuse,” it says, “no rationale that can justify those crimes, those atrocities, committed against God and man. The crusaders, sworn to serve Christ, to fight the heathen, and protect the faithful, instead turned upon the greatest city in Christendom because of lust and greed. Because of what they did, you have rightfully and justly hated us. In that you are in the right. It is our hope though that with this act of contrition, we may begin to heal these wounds, and that perhaps together we may embark on the path of healing Christendom, of which we are both a part.” It is met with stunned silence, before the envoys are directed to leave so that the Romans may discuss this unexpected turn of events.

At the next meeting, the Romans are much more amenable to the Iberian appeals, but there is still the matter that they have nothing of sufficient value to make the Romans enter the war. However the Aragonese then propose the following exchange, Roman naval aid (but not an army) in exchange for allowing Roman sugar and silk to be shipped into Aragonese, Sicilian, and Castilian domains duty-free. Despite the victory at Cartagena, controlling the seas is still difficult for the crusaders as the Genoese continue to pour naval supplies into Tunis despite having to detail numerous ships to maintain a blockade of Pisa (the Hospitalers have largely shifted their attacks to Marinid Tripoli where the new Marinid vessels are being constructed).

Theodoros then adds an extra stipulation to the agreement. The sugar and silk will only be duty-free if it is imported by Roman-owned vessels, thereby preventing Italian traders from being able to take advantage of the treaty. It is a serious blow both to Venice and Genoa, as those two products are the most profitable Roman exports (alum and mastic are more valuable on a per unit basis, but are exported in much smaller quantities). The stipulation is accepted and with substantial pushing from Theodoros IV, the deal is made. On April 9, eight purxiphoi and thirty eight galleys set sail for the western Mediterranean. The Empire has entered the Gunpowder Crusade.

The expedition does not begin auspiciously. When the fleet nears Valencia, a monore (light vessel, very fast with single bank of oars, used for scouting) is dispatched to inform the garrison of their impending arrival. However the vessel is caught in a minor squall and loses two days. Thus when the Roman fleet arrives in all its martial array to impress the Aragonese, with purxiphoi in the center surrounded by dromons (unlike earlier Roman dromons, these are triremes modeled off of Italian war galleys) and ousiakoi (biremes that are in between dromons and monores in size), flanked by monores, the garrison thinks they are under attack. Fortunately two monores are dispatched ahead of the main fleet, which allows the garrison to identify the ships’ owners, and the garrison commander and officers of the watch knew to expect the Roman arrival. So the Roman fleet is able to dock in Valencia without being fired upon, but just barely. The lead monore arrives the next day.

Pressured by Charles Valois, Francis agrees to an extraordinary proposal formulated by his son. To secure more mercenaries, Charles suggests turning to an unique source, one made possible by Provencal merchant contacts in Constantinople. So three weeks after the Iberian delegation a French delegation, led by Charles Valois himself, arrives in the Queen of Cities, asking to rent some of the tagmata. At first, the proposal is met with ridicule. Neither Demetrios or Manuel is fond of turning their professional soldiers into common mercenaries.

However early in the negotiations, Charles and Theodoros become close friends. Both have somewhat of the mentality of merchants and are fond of exploring the docks and markets, interacting with the vendors in a manner not common of royalty. The Greek prince actually meets the French prince while the latter is haggling with a butcher over the price of some steaks. Theodoros, who had an arrangement with the butcher in question, bought the French provisions at his special rate and was then reimbursed by Charles.

With the backing of Theodoros, the French negotiations go smoother. Pointing out that Demetrios is unlikely to need the soldiers anytime soon and that the money would help subsidize the construction projects that Demetrios views as necessary to portray himself as a Laskarid Emperor, Charles is able to convince the Emperor to accept. However the price is extremely high. While the Empire will pay for their transport to France, France must provide all of the troops’ pay, including their active duty bonuses, and provide an equal amount of money to the Imperial treasury. With such a high price, France can only afford five tourmai. Demetrios calls up five of the Anatolian cleisurai and appoints Dragos cel Mare as their commander. They sail in May.

The forty one year old Vlach officer has, for all his fame in Vlachia, done very well for himself in the Roman Empire. The strategos of the Thracesian tagma prior to his reassignment as commander of the French Expeditionary Force, he owns a small palace in the suburbs of Smyrna, where his noble Greek wife and two children (a girl and a boy) live. He is a minor patron of artists in the Smyrna area, and his palaces are adorned with some of the finest mosaics in the Empire.

The Roman ‘army’ lands in Provence none too soon. Both England and Burgundy have launched an all-out effort to cripple France and end the war, marching south from the staging area at Orleans. Instead of the broad advances the allies have been using so far, now both armies are focused on taking Vichy itself. Given the disarray and demoralization through the French realm, if the new capital falls, it is likely that everything outside of Provence will fall with it or shortly afterward.

Francis I orders all of the French armies to rally to Vichy to help combat this threat, but his authority is dwindling. Many of the French nobility remain on their estates, gathering their retainers but remaining in defensive positions. An English thrust is also marching northeast from Toulouse, conducting a massive chevauchee designed to cow the inhabitants of Languedoc and Provence into not marching to Vichy’s aid. It is a break from Edward VI’s conciliatory tactics, but the strain of maintaining the English artillery is threatening to break his exchequer. He needs the war to end soon, hence the bold attack at Vichy despite its distance from the Loire.

Charles Valois himself is ordered to report to Vichy to aid his father, but he refuses. He is the ruler of Provence, and his concern now is to protect Provence, not France. As a result, the Toulouse prong is the greatest threat. When the Romans land, he is at Beziers organizing a counterattack; he requests the Romans join him. Dragos accepts. He is not looking forward to working for Francis I (a sentiment he had made clear to Demetrios before, but had been overridden as the Emperor wanted one of his best commanders to command the expedition so that Roman honor would not be sullied) and welcomes the chance to delay or avert that situation.

However on the way there, Dragos learns that Beziers is under siege by the English army and the French prince is trapped inside. He decides to continue on anyway, expecting that once he arrives at the city, with Charles’ help he can break the siege. On May 22, his scouts make contact with a English detachment seventy five hundred strong, forcing the Romans to take up defensive positions near the village of Lodeve.

The English are commanded by the Duke of Suffolk, who has seen relatively little action for the past several years due to poor health. That time has been speckled with accusations of cowardice, as some of his peers think his ill health is just a front. Since he is facing a foe that is outnumbered, an unusual occurrence for English armies on the continent, the Duke does not take up a defensive position per the usual English practice but immediately marches to the attack. Eager to come to blows with the Romans so he can refute the charges against him, he does not give the men a chance to rest and have lunch, but attacks around 1 PM.

Not the most imaginative general, the Duke adopts the typical English formation of the Ninety Years war, disregarding the fact that he is on the tactical offensive, not the defensive. The men-at-arms are dismounted and held in a refused center, while his five thousand longbowmen are arrayed on the wings, which swing forward toward the Roman lines, creating a crescent. At approximately two hundred meters from the Roman lines, the toxotai commence shooting at them, causing the longbowmen to halt their advance to return the bolts.

At close range, the English longbows pack more punch than Roman composite bows, but at this range, the size (and resulting lack of aerodynamics) of longbow arrows means that the Romans have the advantage in penetrating power. Still the missile volleys are fierce as the English archers outnumber the Romans five to one. Black sheets streak across the sky, each side shooting six times a minute, as the skutatoi form a shield wall and begin absorbing the volleys. Used to eastern horse archers, the skutatoi hold up well under the barrage.

There are a few copses of trees to the flanks of the armies in between the battle lines. As the longbowmen furiously concentrate their fire on opponents who refuse to break under the volleys, unlike all their other enemies, Roman heavy koursores burst out of the grove, charging at the startled archers on the English left wing. The Duke is not caught napping though and with a great crash the English mounted knights charge into action. However as soon as they are engaged, skythikoi come charging out as well, shooting their bows into the mass of English horse at point blank range, wheeling out of the way as their kataphraktoi brethren hurl themselves into the melee. As the cavalry of both sides smash it out on the left wing, the skythikoi sheathe their bows, draw their sabers, and ride down the English archers there before they can retreat to the safety of their dismounted men-at-arms.

However the right wing is still shooting as the left wing crumples, and one longbow arrow strikes Dragos directly in the forehead. It bites into the plate, sticking there, and then stops; the strategos is untouched. His men stare at him for a moment, the Roman volleys slackening. He is heavily dazed, with a minor skull facture. Then Dragos laughs, shouting “It’ll take more than that to kill a dragon!” Laughter echoes down the Roman lines as Dragos trots down them with the arrow still buried in his helmet. As the archers shoot again, they shout “The dragon! The dragon!” Consternation ripples down the English ranks.

By now the English archers on the left are virtually annihilated although the outnumbered English knights still fight bravely. Seeing the skythikoi form up, readying an attack, the longbowmen on the right wing shift their fire, loosing shafts as they begin to advance. Despite the protection of their barding, some men pitch from their saddles as horses go down screaming. But still the skythikoi trot forward, loosing volleys every six steps, bows singing even as more shafts drop upon them. Here and there longbowmen collapse as Roman arrows slice into them. Then Dragos commits his light cavalry, and the light koursores charge out from behind another grove. They are upon the archers before they realize what hits them.

By the time the battle is an hour old, Dragos has swept the field clear of the English archers and cavalry, leaving the outnumbered English melee infantry (including the Duke himself) completely defenseless against his missile troops. As the Roman lines advance toward the English, his kataphraktoi menacing the exposed English flanks while the horse archers race forward, shooting as they move, the Duke capitulates.

The English army is annihilated. Dragos takes almost three thousand prisoners and kills over two thousand more (mostly longbowmen trampled in the cavalry charges). His losses number about three hundred, mostly lightly armored toxotai. He has his own wound attended, which heals well although for the rest of his life he is periodically plagued by headaches. The few panicked survivors pour into Beziers and warn the soldiers there of the disaster, claiming they were bested by a Roman army twenty thousand strong. Alarm spreads rapidly, allowing Charles’ spies in the English camp to inform their prince of the news. Thus when Dragos appears and launches a fierce attack under cover of night on the camp, Charles is ready and launches a sally of his own. By morning the English have been scattered.

Charles and Dragos immediately join forces after the English prisoners are transferred to Charles’ control in exchange for a substantial sum of money. One of Charles’ advantages over his father is that while he controls substantially less territory, it is per capita richer and he has much tighter control over its revenue. The latter is due to an overhaul he made of the toll system, eliminating minor ones in favor of a few, more easily collected ones. While the amount of tolls on Provencal trade remain largely the same, the simplification of paying them helps to increase trade and Charles’ revenue.

Together the Provencal and Roman armies, numbering sixteen thousand, sweep westward with their sights on Toulouse. The English, used to winning, have been effectively cowed by their sudden reverses combined with the aura of the Dragon. As a result, the English-Gascon army of about fifteen thousand allows itself to be shut inside Toulouse without contestation. Here the siege is difficult, as Provencal cannons are of poor quality while Roman artillery is of low quantity. For two months the sappers and trebuchets continue their laborious work to no effect.

Finally, low on supplies, the Duke of Suffolk regains his courage and organizes a mass sally of the garrison. Attacking at dawn on August 15, they strike with the terrible energy of men who know they must conquer or die. The allied lines begin to crack, as ordinary men cannot stand against such desperate bravery. As the garrison nears breakout, the heavy cavalry held in reserve finally move into position. Side by side French knights and Roman kataphraktoi advance, sunlight glinting off their armor as they form their lines, their silhouettes shivering as their lances are lowered for the attack. One trumpet sounds; it is all these soldiers, on both sides, need.

The Duke’s voice calls out, trying to be heard over the oncoming thunder, but it is of little use as he tries to reform his lines. As the cavalry reaches the one hundred meter distance, it bursts into gallop, three thousand horses (one thousand Romans, two thousand French) beating down the earth in an unstoppable drumbeat. From the Roman throats comes their cry of old “St. Theodoros!” For the French, led by Charles Valois himself, it is a new call “For Provence!”. The uneven English lines stand as much chance as a leaf in a hurricane.

According to his official chronicler, Gaspard Bureau, Charles himself slays the Duke of Suffolk in single combat. Regardless of who killed their commander, the English troops are cut to pieces, the survivors spilling back into Toulouse with the enemy right behind them. Despite heavy fire from crossbowmen and a half dozen culverins, Provencal soldiers succeed in capturing a gatehouse and holding it long enough for three skutatoi droungoi to secure it. The city falls by the end of the day.

To the north, Francis I is doing far worse. He led a cavalry charge on a Burgundian troop near Evaux-les-Bains only to be ambushed by squadrons of English longbowmen hiding in the woods. After losing substantial numbers of knights to the shafts, the Burgundian knights charge straight down their throats bellowing “Autun!”. Most of the French column is wiped out, with Francis himself losing two mounts before escaping on the horse of a slain guardsman. His second son Louis is killed during the battle. His eldest, Philippe, was not present but was in Vichy.

Roman Armor Just Prior to the War of the Orthodox Alliance c. 1430

Although the equipment standards of the Roman army in 1430 had remained the same since they were implemented in 1304 upon the establishment of the Coloneian theme by John IV Laskaris, Roman armor in those 126 years had substantially increased in quantity and quality. While to receive their pay, tagma soldiers only had to meet the minimum standards (equipment bonuses were calculated to pay for the minimum equipment requirement) most soldiers, if they could, purchased more armor and weapons to ensure their survival in battle. In the case of maces, war hammers, leather lamellar and steel lamellar armor, the Roman state deliberately made it easy for soldiers by providing them through the warehouse system. If they were not available at the time, a soldier could also place an order for them. Plate armor had to be procured by the soldier directly from a blacksmith, but the warehouse system also maintained a list of contacts with smiths capable of making plate armor, giving that information as desired to soldiers. An important item to remember about Roman equipment standards was that they were enforced by army officers who understood the nature of armor protection, not civilian bureaucrats. Thus many heavy troops arrived at tagma reviews without their mail suits but were not penalized so long as the soldier had protection over the same body area (steel lamellar for the torso and leather lamellar for the limbs was the accepted alternative; complete leather lamellar was considered too light). Light troops such as akritoi or turkopouloi however were not allowed to purchase heavy armor that would hamper their effectiveness as light troops. As a result, the Roman army that fought in the War of the Orthodox Alliance had a much heavier battle line than the Roman army that fought in Anna I’s Syrian War.

Toxotai: The foot archer of the Roman army was very lightly armored, typically in thick lamellar leather (about 60%) or cloth in the poorer themes. Their main source of protection was their pavise shields. Those toxotai who were crossbowmen wore their own on their backs in battle, turning them toward the enemy as they reloaded. However the vast majority (85-90%) were composite bowmen capable of loosing shafts at a rate of one every six to eight seconds (admittedly continuing this rate for long periods of time was extremely tiring). Turning their backs would only slow their rate of fire. So in battle each composite bowman had a pavise handler, typically a baggage handler, who protected the archer who would shoot behind its protection. This system was how Dragos cel Mare’s toxotai at Lodeve took so few casualties despite being under the attack of thousands of English longbowmen. The longbowmen could only shoot at the exposed heads, a very small target, although since the toxotai lacked steel helmets any shot that did strike was a lethal blow.

Akritoi: The ferocious light infantry of the Roman army were also lightly armored, protected by leather lamellar and a steel cap secured by a chin strap. Their main protection was speed and ferocity, qualities they possessed aplenty.


A reenactor of a Khorasani heavy infantryman c. 1430. Roman lamellar armor was quite similar in design and capabilities. While plate offered better protection, steel lamellar was the favored heavy protection because it was much easier to make and repair, as well as substantially cheaper.

Skutatoi: The core of the Roman battle line, the skutatoi were substantially more armored than other Roman infantry. The minimum equipment was a thick cloth kavadion (worn under armor), a heavy chainmail shirt that covered the arms and legs, another thick cloth garmet called a epilorikion worn over the armor, thick leather gloves, a large kite shaped shield made of steel-reinforced wood with a steel boss and rim, and a steel helmet that covered the head and face. However by 1430, many skutatoi had added to this array. By that time, at least sixty five percent of skutatoi were protected by a steel lamellar cuirass with leather lamellar protection for the limbs in place of the chainmail, including all of the skutatoi serving in the Athanatoi, as well as virtually all of those serving in the Optimates, Opsician, and Thracesian tagmata.

Turkopouloi: Superb light cavalry, the turkopouloi like the akritoi with whom they usually operated, were very lightly armored. Protected by leather lamellar, most even did not have the steel cap, preferring one of leather or felt. Speed, maneuverability, and their skills in horse archery was what protected them.

Light koursores: A form of melee light cavalry, these were better equipped than turkopouloi. Their horses were usually unarmored, although sometimes they were protected by light cloth barding. The riders wore light chainmail and an epilorikion, wearing a steel cap like the akritoi. Only slightly slower than light horse archers, they could usually catch them if they had the advantage of surprise, and in melee they could chop light horse archers to bits.

Heavy koursores: Often called the poor man’s kataphraktoi, this troop type has also been given the confusing name of light heavy cavalry. That is because although they often functioned like heavy cavalry, even their good protection could not compare to that of the kataphraktoi. Their mounts were protected by thick cloth barding, with chainmail barding for the horse’s face and neck. The riders were protected by a kavadion, heavy mail, an epilorikion, and a skutatoi-style helmet. About half of the heavy koursores by 1430 had outfitted themselves like the skutatoi with leather and steel lamellar to replace the increasing unpopular chainmail.

Skythikoi: Heavy horse archers, these troops were designed to fight in melee and were very well equipped for the task. Their mounts were protected by thick cloth and mail barding, with steel lamellar protection for the face and neck. The riders wore a kavadion, heavy mail protection for the whole body, an epilorikion, a helmet, and a lamellar cuirass. By 1430 about half had added steel lamellar protection for their limbs (replacing the mail) and about a third protected their torso with a plate cuirass.

Kataphraktoi: The elite of the Roman army, these war machines were awesomely protected. The great warhorses were protected by thick cloth and full steel lamellar barding, making them almost immune to archery fire. The men too wore a kavadion, complete steel lamellar armor over their whole body, and an epilorikion. And even that was not enough for many, as by 1430 about forty percent used a plate cuirass as well.

1427: In the south the Provencal-Roman armies are doing well, although none of their victories can compare to the fall of Toulouse (because the army there was supposed to be conducting raids, not sieges, the city was not stocked with English artillery). Marching into Aquitaine, they face fierce but ultimately ineffectual resistance from the local Gascons, who have long been ruled by England and prefer it that way. Although every attempt to challenge them in the field is crushed, after beating their heads against stubborn Gascon fortresses, the army retires to Toulouse, ignoring the blood-curdling threats issued by Francis.

Francis meanwhile is virtually penned up in Moulins; the only connection he has to the rest of his domains is the Allier river, heavily patrolled by Burgundian boats. Despite his precarious situation, his ‘requests’ to his various nobles (and Charles) for troops warn that ‘those who refuse to aid their God-ordained sovereign of the realm of France will suffer the fate of all traitors and rebels, the just fate issued upon the city of Autun’. Once again, Francis’ complete and utter lack of any diplomatic skills is devastating to his cause. Unsurprisingly, none of the recipients are inclined to aid him. Meanwhile the massed weight of the entire English artillery train, one hundred and twenty two guns, including two monsters who shoot three hundred pound balls, disintegrate the walls. After a siege of only seven days, Moulins is largely defended by hastily created earthen ramparts and ditches and piles of rubble.

On June 4, Francis meets an individual even less inclined to listen to him. It is a thirty pound cast iron English cannonball which strikes himself squarely in the head, which promptly ceases to exist. Five days later his son Philippe is also killed, this time by a Burgundian crossbow. Charles de Valois, Count of Provence, is now by right the King of France. In that capacity he meets with Edward VI, King of England, and Louis II, Duke of Burgundy, at Moulins, which had capitulated just before, to discuss peace terms.

It is an exemplary moment to pursue peace. A normal French king would be loathe to give up his northern territories, including the capital of Paris, but Charles is not a normal French monarch. His heart and his mind are Provencal, looking to the Mediterranean and not toward northern France. What does it matter to the Marseille merchant that Paris is English? The price of red coral in Sinope is more important than that. A war to the north would not serve Provencal interests and would likely harm them severely instead. Plus there is also the fact that considering the size of the Roman contingent, Charles does not like his odds of facing an English army commanded by Edward VI himself.

Louis II also wants to see a quick end to the war as well. If the war continues, the most likely outcome would be the English conquest of all of France, something which would not be in the best interests of Burgundy. A free state in southern France could be an effective counterweight to future English aggression. Plus if peace is made, perhaps that new French state could be gobbled up by Burgundy alone, rather than an alliance in which the Duchy is a junior partner.

Edward VI is also interested in peace. He is not so convinced that a total conquest of France is possible, as his manpower and monetary reserves are beginning to crack (a fact he has thus far kept from his Burgundian allies). Control of northern and western France would be an immense addition to the English state by itself. Plus a southern French state could be used to curb Burgundian ambitions toward Paris.

Thus the Ninety Years War comes to an end in a twenty one day summit at Vichy. The first proviso concerns the allocation of titles. Charles Valois abandons all claims to the title King of France, ceding it to Edward VI, now King of England and France. Louis II’s duchy is elevated, with him becoming King of Lotharingia. One of the courtiers protests that the Holy Roman Emperor would not approve of the arbitrary revival of a dead kingly title that threatens his own supremacy. At that point Dragos, who is present, stands up and says that “The true Roman Emperor has no quarrel with the title, and supports its bestowal on the worthy duke.” The worthy duke smiles and replies “That’s good enough for me.” And the deed is done.

To compensate for the loss of his title, Charles is crowned King of Arles, the name given to his new kingdom. It too is the revival of an old title from the early Middle Ages. The rebirth of the Lotharingian and Arletian titles are explicitly stated to have no claim on territories held by the other as established in the treaty of Moulins, or on English territories granted in the same documents. Claims on non-signatories are not mentioned.

It is now that Charles’ military campaign of the last year really pays off. With the support of Louis, he is able to pressure Edward into allowing him to keep Toulouse and the surrounding territories as part of the Kingdom of Arles, substantially enlarging its territory. Centered around the Rhone river valley with the Toulouse detachment, the Provencal-Arletian state is small but highly urbanized and developed by western European standards, home to thriving vineyards, a substantial network of merchants, and a respectable manufacturing district producing armor, glassware, and perfume. As a result Charles’ domain is more powerful than a map would suggest.

Lotharingia does not gain a great deal of territory, as after the Autun debacle its armies do not inspire as much respect as either the continually victorious English armies or the recently victorious Provencal one. Most of its remaining strength is spent keeping the Low countries in line. While the various towns there, particularly the great port of Antwerp, provide a huge amount of revenue they are never very happy with rule from Dijon. In the treaty though England recognizes Lotharingian sovereignty over the whole region. The new kingdom gains some slices of France, but nothing compared to the vast array that England formally receives.

Although England loses some pieces of Aquitaine to Arles, the majority of French soil now lies in English hands. The port of Calais, where the wool staple is located, lies near the Burgundian border, while the great French cities of Paris, Rheims, and Orleans also are in English France. Overall the region is secure, basking in the comparatively light and stable rule of Edward VI. The great universities of the realm along with the towns are wholeheartedly behind the English monarchs, who has unfailingly confirmed and maintained their old charters. Only Brittany murmurs discontentedly, but the disturbance has yet to enter the realm of deed.


France at the end of the Ninety Years War. The white in the Kingdom of Arles is the Avignon Papacy.​

As the treaty of Moulins is signed, bringing an end to the Ninety Years War, a messenger arrives from Avignon. Pope Gregory XI is dead. No longer will beggars dine at his table, no longer will peasants have their feet washed by the Holy Father. But as he felt the end draw near in the winter of 1426, the servant of the servants of God was determined to do one last deed, to end the Great Schism that has torn apart the Catholic Church for forty years. His great rival Martin VI predeceased him, dying in December of 1426 and due to Gregory’s overtures, a successor has not been elected whilst Gregory traveled to Rome to negotiate in person.

Part of Gregory’s conditions had been that the united Catholic Church must continue to subsidize his projects, all of them, in full. The cardinals, aghast at the cost Gregory had been pouring into those projects, refused. It is said that at that moment Gregory lost his temper the only time in his life. In a full throated bellow, fit more for a middle-aged general than an old priest, he damned them, damning them for their greed, their lust, and their malice. He said ‘You watch the children of God go hungry so that you may finish your golden salt shaker collections! You are no Christians, no followers of Christ! With every breath you slight the cross. I will have nothing to do you curs. It would be better to dine with the Greek and the Moor, for at least they do not spit in the face of God with hypocrisy!’

When he is finished, he storms out of the chamber; the negotiations are over. He returns to Avignon, hearing on the way that the Roman cardinals have elected a new pope. Fearful of the Greek threat, they have decided to draw closer to Germany so they might have the weight of that numerous people in future contests. To that end, the new pope is from the Palatine, known for his great piety and not so great intelligence and takes the name John XXIII. In Avignon, Gregory, sensing his health failing, takes off his papal regalia, dons a monastic habit, donates all his possessions to a poor fund, and stands down as his personal protégé is elected Pope, taking the name Gregory XII.

While he is on his deathbed one of his attendants murmurs that surely Gregory is a saint and will go straight to heaven. Gregory’s eyes flicker open, and for a brief moment his voice is as strong as ever. He looks the attendant straight in the eye and says “You’re wrong. Too many sons have died because of me. Only once all of them have entered paradise will I be allowed to join them. A just God would not have it otherwise.” Then he closes his eyes, lays his head back down, and is no more.

Throughout all the realms that follow the Avignon church, the people mourn in special services, from Portugal to Finland. Even just a few months after his death, the peasants in Castile, who above all others benefitted from his generosity, begin to speak of ‘St. Gregory the Kind’. In Constantinople, in the Hagia Sophia itself, Patriarch Adem (Adam) himself leads a prayer for Gregory’s soul. And in Rome, John XXIII issues an anathema upon the memory of Gregory XI, publicly remarking that in a modernized version of Dante’s Inferno, Dante would surely meet the former pope in the bowels of hell.

The Gunpowder Crusade gains another entry when the Sicilian Cortes votes in favor of entering the war. Sicilian ships swoop down upon the north African coast, burning and pillaging. Oran is placed under a blockade on its landward side, but a Marinid attempt to establish a naval blockade is thwarted when a combined Aragonese-Sicilian-Roman fleet scatters the vessels. Overall the Marinids are content with a simple land blockade, except for a few odd probes. Their best troops are stationed in Iberia, and that is where the contest will be decided.

Sicily also declares war on Genoa as well with King Jaime’s approval, her ships attacking Genoese convoys en route to Tunis in cooperation with Hospitaler warships. Here Sicily stands largely alone except for the Knights. While Aragon does enter the war against Genoa as well, her ships are devoted to fighting the Marinids, although a dozen galleys from Sardinia, which is part of Aragon’s domain, join in the battle by harrying the Genoese off Pisa. Both Emperor Demetrios and Doge Andrea Alessi are still good friends though, so the Roman fleet remains based in Valencia, except for one instance when its marines help beat off a half-hearted attempt to storm Oran.

1428: Desultory fighting in the Mediterranean and Iberia continues as the Gunpowder Crusade rumbles along. But in March the Iberians receive a papal bull (from the Pope in Rome) calling Iberian efforts ‘an act of folly, for you foul yourself by consorting with wanton heretics. The blood of your sons is just recompense for your sins’.

The missive comes as a tremendous insult to the Iberian people. Rome has consistently been virtually blind to the threat posed to them by the Marinid Sultanate. The Iberians remark that they were quick to call crusades against Constantinople but had to be harangued into declaring ones against Fez. They have been distracted by other concerns, particularly the Roman Empire, whose turkopouloi are now stationed at Salerno, menacingly close to the Eternal City. Yet those heretics that the Roman pope condemns are now doing more for their cause than the Holy Father himself. Avignon has been far better to them, for Gregory XII continues the subsidies.

However the storm that sweeps across Christian Iberia is not because of any great love for the Romans, whose alliance was bought, not given. But the insult leveled upon their sacrifice cannot be condoned. Both peasant and priest denounce the Roman pope throughout the land. A phrase uttered by the commander of the Roman fleet, Alexandros of Kerasous, quickly gains popularity; he calls them ‘defenders of the western bulwark of Christendom’. The papal envoy to the Castilian court is actually lynched in Burgos without any punishment being leveled against the perpetrators.

The storm dies down though as Mohammed unleashes his own storm upon Christian Iberia, finally coming into his own as an army commander. A whirlwind of activity, he smashes in the Algarve, scattering the Portuguese before him, fighting several small engagements against isolated detachments and winning every single one. Even with the continued church subsidies, Portugal no longer has the strength to continue the conflict and is forced to drop out, although the Marinids recognize all of the Portuguese conquests to date; they are territories of little consequence or value. Except for the Algarve, the kingdom has restored its pre-Marinid borders.

With the withdrawal of Portugal, the naval cordon between Africa and Europe is gravely weakened, allowing Mohammed to receive a new artillery train and more conscripts (Marinid manpower reserves are almost exhausted, but are not there yet), including several squadrons of heavy-armed cavalry. News from the central Mediterranean is also promising.

On April 5, the Sicilians had launched an attack on Tunis, hoping to knock out this pillar of Genoese and Marinid power. Unfortunately for them, Tunis is well fortified (Andrea Alessi has used his personal friendship with Demetrios to gain special deals on Roman cannons) and they attack while a Genoese convoy is docked there, unloading its cargo to a large Marinid caravan. Both the Genoese sailors and Marinid drivers and guards join in defending the city.

The Sicilian galleys are largely unequipped with artillery, with only two possessing a single cannon each, meaning the coastal artillery can fire on them largely unhindered. The handful of half-wrecked galleys that manage to fight their way into the harbor are buried by the defending soldiers. It is a military disaster for Sicily, virtually knocking the Sicilians out of the war. Eleven days later, the Sardinian warships harrying the blockade of Pisa are brought to bay by a Genoese squadron off Elba and roundly trounced. Except for the Hospitalers, the Genoese again have uncontested command of the central Mediterranean.

In Iberia, judging the Castilians to be too well entrenched, Mohammed launches a whirlwind campaign in Murica, where Aragonese forces have been largely demoralized since the debacle at Aledo. In three sharp engagements, he drives them out of Murcia and then in a brilliant coup seizes Cartagena through treachery. The city that took the Christians five years to capture holds out a mere five hours. Ciudad de Canones has to be placed under siege but with his new artillery train and more experience in their use, Mohammed is able to take it after a siege of thirty one days, only hindered by a few offshore cannonades from Roman purxiphoi.

Now the Marinid army is able to menace Valencia itself, second only to Barcelona in Christian Iberia. Jaime is desperate to avoid an attack on this jewel of the realm, but with the disasters in Murcia he has no army left to oppose them. Fortunately for him, Mohammed is feeling generous (as viceroy of al-Andalus he has the authority to negotiate peace terms regarding Iberia). Castile is the main threat, as Castilian troops are poised to attack the Guadalquivir, not Aragonese. So Aragon is forced to abandon all claims to Murcia, Ciudad de Canones, and Cartagena, but is allowed to keep all the territory it seized between the Ebro and Valencia.

Despite the brilliance of its artillery, jinetes, and almughavars, standing alone against the Marinid tide Castile stands little chance. In one exhausting but brilliant campaign, the Hammer of al-Andalus has completely reversed the tide of the Gunpowder Crusade. Just after Aragon withdraws from the Gunpowder Crusade but before the Roman fleet can return to Constantinople, Ferdinand arrives in Valencia to make a personal appeal to Alexandros. He beseeches ‘a fellow defender of the bulwark of Christendom’. He emphasizes the similarities between the Iberians and Romans, who together have sheltered Europe from the Muslim tide yet have been badly treated in spite of the blood they have shed. He asks that the Romans perform one last task before they depart.

Fortunately for him, Alexandros is receptive to such talk. His fleet has not seen much action, as its very presence has helped intimidate the Marinid navy, and both he and his men are looking for a battle and spoils. Also Alexandros was given a personal audience with Demetrios himself, who emphasized the need to improve relations with the Catholic west. Unlike his son, Demetrios is more concerned with improving relations with western Christendom. The alliance itself would help a little, but it had been bought with trade concessions. Alexandros realizes that this task will, if successful, earn the undying gratitude of the Iberian people.

So when the fleet departs Valencia, it does not head east but southwest. On September 3, the people of Melilla see the masts of the purxiphoi on the horizon. After the exertions of the Murcia-Cartagena campaign, Mohammed’s men and supplies are exhausted, so he is busy biding his time, paving the way for the assault on Castile. Alcaudete is under blockade and Berber raids again pillage the outskirts of Alarcos. The almughavars and jinetes fight bravely but since the Marinids are now fighting on only one, not three fronts, they are vastly outnumbered.

The city of Melilla is the great clearing house where African supplies are stored to be shipped to al-Andalus. More guns lie there in the warehouses to be used against the fortifications at Alarcos while barracks are full of Africa’s last batch of recruits. Marinid reserves have finally reached the breaking point. If Mohammed’s offensive fails there can be no others, at least not for several years.

Because of the threat from Aragonese and Portuguese vessels, the coastal fortifications are state-of-the-art. When the fleet comes into range they are immediately fired upon by cannons located in three defending forts. The purxiphoi halt, firing volleys to provide covering fire as lead galleys land marines to withdraw the great chain that protects the harbor. There is a fierce fight as scimitar and harpoon slash at each other but the best Marinid troops are in al-Andalus. The chain is lowered, allowing the dromons to start pouring into the harbor. Meanwhile the purxiphoi continue pouring shot into the fortifications, although a great ball has broken the back of one of them while another two are in ruins with at least half their crews dead from artillery fire.

The dromons charge into the bay, their bow guns (by now most Roman galleys are equipped with four culverins-two in the bow and two in the stern) firing into the merchant vessels berthed there at point blank range while artillery screams down upon them from the fortifications. Archers on deck sing out whistling volleys, trying to cut down the ballista and cannon crews. Crippled vessels ground themselves, marines and sailors pouring out of their dying ships in a frenzy of boarding actions. The local garrison and the merchant sailors fight desperately, but in the ruthless melee of a boarding action, the Roman marines are supreme. Flames erupt from the merchant ships as they are lighted, more marines storming the port itself to ignite the warehouses. However the Marinid army pay chests are discovered in time and taken away as spoils.

Even more soldiers turn and storm the coastal fortifications, which are not designed to defend against a landward attack. Every Marinid gunner is cut down without mercy as one by one the guns are spiked. By now the harbor itself is a scene from hell, flames leaping into the sky, stilled only the streams of blood flowing along the wharf. Recruits from the barracks come streaming into the harbor to help, but they are green. A few showers of culverin shot and a charge of marines scatters them. In the course of three hours the Roman fleet completely destroys Melilla’s capability to function as a naval base and supply depot, but at a high cost. Out of the forty six ships that attack the Marinid city, only thirty return.

When the battered, half wrecked fleet sails into Valencia, it is greeted with tremendous cheers. King Jaime is there in the city, and although he is now at peace with the Marinids he is immensely grateful for what the Romans have done. He meets with Alexandros, who has a broken arm (caused by a falling spar) and a large gash on his forehead, and offers to pay for all Roman repairs and resupplies. The offer is accepted. Meanwhile the news spreads through Aragon, Castile, and Portugal, and in churches across all three lands clergy and laity meet to give thanks to God for the victory the Romans have given them. And nowhere is the word ‘heresy’ to be heard.

The Romans soon depart from Constantinople, stopping in Palermo on the way home to again be greeted with celebrations by the inhabitants. When Alexandros finally returns to the Queen of Cities, Demetrios personally meets him at the docks (Manuel is too ill to do so as well while Theodoros does not approve), congratulating him on his great victory, both in its military and diplomatic senses, and granting him the rank of komes (count-not inheritable) and an estate near Heraclea.

In Iberia the mood is not quite so happy, as the glow of Melilla wears off when a new missive from the Roman pope arrives forbidding Iberian clergy to donate to the Gunpowder Crusade, ignoring the fact that they don’t answer to Rome. The hard line the Roman Papacy is taking with the Iberians due to their alliance with the Empire is because of the arrangement of power in Rome. While John XXIII himself is German, many of his closest friends are Italian, largely from the Kingdom of Naples. Also his personal assistant is Giovanni Loredan, who often is the public face of the Holy Office (and some would say its brains as well). Giovanni’s position gives him a great deal of influence over the Roman Pope.

Aragonese and Sicilian merchants have over the past few years become increasingly involved with the Egyptian market, to the detriment of Venetian interests there. Portugal has also steadfastly blocked Venetian attempts to expand its trade network into the Atlantic system. Also there is the simple fact that the Iberians have been allied with the Romans, the ones who put the dozens of scars on his back. His argument to the simple-minded pope is that contact with the Romans will lead the Iberians into heresy, and that only strong measures will serve to save them from that path.

The pope actually takes it a step farther, publicly proclaiming in a papal bull that trade with heretics is an endangerment to weak souls (a statement that annoys not only the Roman Empire but Novgorod-Lithuania as well). The proclamation has little effect on Orthodox-Catholic trade, but Doge Andrea Alessi of Genoa remarks to several leading merchants that apparently “wine is Catholic, silk is Orthodox, ginger is Muslim, and I believe that means nutmeg is Jewish.”

Mohammed is now in a quandary. Without the additions to his artillery train that were stored at Melilla, he is not fond of his chances of taking Alarcos relatively cheaply, as by now it is the best fortified place in Iberia, possibly even western Europe. He could take it, but it would take an immense amount of time and blood, and Marinid manpower reserves are spent. And until he takes Alarcos, he cannot bring war to the Castilian heartland. And now with the Ninety Years War over, there are rumors that English, Lotharingian, and Arletian armies may begin moving south, a force the Sultanate would be hard pressed to resist even now, much less after the necessary losses from taking Alarcos.

So instead of launching his planned offensive, he instead unleashes a hurricane of raiding parties upon Castile. Their orders are to scour the land, taking as many Castilian prisoners as possible, both soldiers and peasants. Although the large columns of captives make juicy targets for the Castilians, the sheer number of veteran Marinid troops assigned to screen them means that very few of the launched attacks actually succeed.

Finally as winter arrives, Mohammed begins peace talks with Ferdinand. They meet at Alcaudete, still in Castilian hands and bristling with captured Marinid guns. Ferdinand has used his few months well. He has been able to take advantage of the peace in France to hire large numbers of disbanded soldiers. They come rather cheap, as both Italy (except for the Genoa-Pisa war) and Germany are quiet. The Holy Roman Emperor is enraged over the creation of the Kingdom of Lotharingia without his consent, but Bavaria cannot fight both Lotharingia and Saxony at the same time, and war with Saxony over its designs on Pomerania is inevitable by this time. In fact, virtually all of Europe is silent, except far to the east where the armies of Pronsk are moving.

With his ranks bolstered by English longbowmen moving on horses and fighting dismounted, Ferdinand has been able to maul the last two Marinid raids. Still thousands of his subjects are in captivity, and even with the mercenaries he is too weak to take the offensive. If the Grand Army was not enough, then nothing within Castile’s native resources is capable of confronting the Marinids alone.

With his army incapable of serious offensive operations, Mohammed is forced to offer far more lenient terms then he would like. His proposal is that Alarcos become the new border between Castile and the Marinid Sultanate, with the fortress remaining in Castilian hands. However Alcaudete is to revert back to Muslim control, an offer Ferdinand is not willing to accept. Now the reasoning for the raids is made clear. Mohammed proposes that Ferdinand returns Alcaudete and in exchange he will receive all the captives without having to pay any sort of ransom. The Marinids would still have to buy back their captives, but that pool is much smaller. With reluctance, Ferdinand accepts the deal, signing for Sicily as well (a few weeks later Aragon and Sicily make peace with Genoa, restoring the status quo).

Iberia is at peace for the first time in eleven years. Overall the Gunpowder Crusade could be considered a limited Christian success. The Marinids did lose a sizeable portion of their territories in al-Andalus, but nearly all had been lost in the first year when the bulk of Marinid forces had been stationed in Africa. Once they returned, for all of the impressive Christian victories at Alarcos, Malaga, Yecla, and Alcaudete, the best the crusaders could achieve was a rough stalemate, one that had been shifting in favor of the Marinids until Melilla cut it short.

Plus the territory the Marinids lost was mostly peripheral. Granada and the Guadalquivir, the backbone of al-Andalus, remains in their hands largely untouched. Also the Algarve, the source of the best sailors in the Marinid fleet, still is under their control and stoutly loyal, although the region and populace took some damage during the repeated Portuguese attempts to conquer the region. So in the end, the Gunpowder Crusade does help to strengthen the Iberians a little, but does not impact the strength of the Marinid Sultanate.

1429: At the initiative of Mohammed, peace is restored between the Marinid Sultanate and the Roman Empire. He also convinces his father to allow him to keep his powers as Lord of al-Andalus. As soon as peace is made, he begins working to improve relations between al-Andalus and the Romans, encouraging the import of Roman goods to draw in merchants, so that a future war will be much less palatable to the Roman treasury.

Now it is the other end of the European continent that erupts into war as a mass revolt breaks out in the Blue Horde under the leadership of a chieftain named Kebek Surenchar. Disgusted by the rather incompetent leadership of Sarai, he quickly is able to create a vast coalition of Tatar tribes under his banner, aided by Pronsky subsidies. As he proclaims a new Khanate of Perm, the armies of Pronsk smash into the Blue Horde, ripping out a sizeable portion of its territories along the western Volga, inflicting a smashing defeat on a Tatar army of eleven thousand just a few miles from the Sit River when a surprise charge by the Pronsky heavy lancers drive the Tatar left wing into the Volga, killing fifteen hundred and causing another seven hundred to drown. The outskirts of Sarai itself are raided by Pronsky horse. Meanwhile Kebek gobbles up all of Sarai’s territories east of the great river, then turning to invade the White Horde.

The White Horde is in better shape internally than the Blue Horde, but as soon as Perm armies cross the frontier, the Khanate of Sibir and the Uzbek Khanate also invade. By the time the dust clears, the Blue and White Hordes have been reduced to second-tier powers. The Blue Horde is in an especially precarious position. Although Pronsk has been content with the bite it took and Kebek has decided to set up his own state rather than conquer Sarai, now Georgia, the Roman Empire, Novgorod-Lithuania, and Vlachia are eyeing the truncated Crimean horde. When news of Sarai’s disasters reach Constantinople and are then confirmed by Roman agents in Sarai, Demetrios cancels the subsidies that he had been paying as protection money for Soldaia and Kaffa.

More ominous news for Sarai also comes from Kiev. Alexei I, King of Novgorod, in that great, ancient city of the Rus, has married Anastasia, the daughter and only heir of Boris II, Grand Duke of Pronsk. It is the end of a long period of reconciliation between the two Russian states, forged with increased ties of trade and a common cultural influence from the Queen of Cities. A representative from Constantinople is present at the marriage, presenting the bride with a dark red dress made from the finest Roman silk, embroidered with gold thread, and accompanied by a pearl necklace strung on a gold chain, from which dangle four diamonds, two sapphires, and a ruby the size of a thumb. In the words of Demetrios himself, it is a gift ‘worthy of an empress’.

Far to the southeast, the Emir of Khorasan, Pir Mohammed, great grandson of Timur, declares himself Sultan of Persia. Over the past four years as his uncle Shah Rukh drives deeper into Shun China, the Emir has successfully overrun the smaller Timurid states in eastern Persia. Sistan and Baluchistan, small in size, fell quickly. Kerman had posed a greater challenge, especially since it received some financial support from the Delhi Sultanate (Delhi is doing somewhat better, as Vijayangara pressure has slackened while the Indian Emperor deals with Maratha unrest). Despite that, Pir Mohammed’s superiority in heavy-armed troops proved decisive.

However the question now is where to turn. Swati Kashmir is one possibility, but the Buddhist state has been careful to not give him any provocation. Plus the Swati state is adored by its inhabitants, which would make controlling the region difficult at best. Persia itself is a more tempting prospect, but Pir Mohammed does not want a border with the Ottomans, at least not yet. So it is to India that he turns. His imams are of course furious at his desire to fight the last Muslim state in India, but he is adamant in his course. In his capital of Ghayen, which has become a thriving city of 29,000 since it became a Timurid provincial capital in 1384, the preparations begin.

1430: Finally, after four years of struggle, Osman II takes the city of Chaloos, killing the Emir of Mazandaran in the process. By now he has a small armada operating on the Caspian, overwhelming the natives’ superior skill with superior numbers. He also now has a large cache of captured armor with which to outfit his troops, and now with an artillery train that is much more experienced (although still lacking cannons), he is able to overrun most of the Emirate by the end of the year. Elsewhere Ottoman progress remains slow but steadily forward.

The greatest problem is actually in the Persian Gulf, where the Emirate of Hormuz has made itself into a significant nuisance. Several times the Hormuz fleet has been able to place Basra under blockade. This is a very serious threat as the naval war encourages merchants to chose the Red Sea route of bringing their goods to the west, which removes a substantial source of revenue from both Ottoman and Roman coffers. In fact Baghdad has received a couple of complaints from Constantinople over that fact, as Antioch is also beginning to suffer.

After the fall of Chaloos, Osman decides on a series of reforms designed to improve the speed of the Ottoman conquest of Persia. First, he starts instituting azab conscription in Mosul, Basra, and Baghdad, which had previously been exempt (a clause left from the days when the Ottomans were newcomers in Mesopotamia and needed the support of the major cities). However these azabs are to be protected by mail armor and a helmet, while equipped with a long spear and a sword, and are to be subjected to much stronger discipline than is customarily given to regular azabs, which are little more than raw levies. Old Janissaries, too old for regular campaigning, are to be their drill sergeants.

The armor comes from a rather unexpected source, Georgia. The medium-sized state has a respectable armor industry and has become a significant supplier in the region due to royal investments. The Ottomans quickly become their biggest customers. Also via the Georgians, Osman makes contact with Venetian merchants also willing to help supply the Ottoman army. Not only does Osman buy their armor, he also recruits Georgian mercenaries for use in his army, a clause he does not regret as the Georgian army has adopted Roman organization and discipline as far as possible.

He also gains another boon in late September as a revolt breaks out in Syria against the Mamelukes. Damascus capitulates almost immediately because of treachery and the rebel armies under their leader Barsbay, swings west, gradually reducing the coastal cities so that Cairo cannot ship an army to attack him in the rear as he advances. At Acre, he faces his first serious opposition, a Mameluke army 20,000 strong. In a six hour battle, he annihilates it as a fighting force.

As Barsbay continues his advance, Osman is able to reduce the number of troops he had stationed in Mesopotamia to guard against a Mameluke offensive, dispatching them to the southern front. With the fall of Mazandaran, Hormuz is now the highest priority. Although it is not between Baghdad and Samarkand, its attacks are the most damaging and in the days of his father, it was an Ottoman city.

And to the west a new age begins its dawn as Lisbon dispatches an expedition to colonize the island of Madeira. There are several factors encouraging Lisbon to begin exploration to the west and south. The Marinids derive their great economic strength via their control of the northern terminus of the Sahara caravan routes, through which comes gold, salt, and slaves from the Jolof Empire. If the Portuguese can establish direct relations with Jolof, they might be able to cut out the Marinids and cripple their economy. Also there is a desire to gain access to the fabled east, from which comes spices. That would cut out the Italians, particularly the Genoese. Also a few rumors have sprung up because of Roman contacts with Ethiopia, rumors that speak of a great African empire, ruled over by a Christian king named Prester John (the Timur is Prester John story is fading in popularity). He would make a great ally against the Marinids.


1) Kingdom of Aragon, Kingdom of Sicily
2) Kingdom of Arles
3) Duchy of Savoy, Counties of Nice and Saluzzo
4) Republic of Genoa
5) Kingdom of Naples
6) Papal State (of Rome)
7) Republic of Florence
8) Duchy of Milan
9) Kingdom of Lotharingia
10) Minor German states
11) Duchy of Bavaria-Holy Roman Emperor
12) Duchy of Austria
13) Kingdom of Bohemia
14) Principality of Presporok
15) Duchy of Saxony-Brandenburg
16) Teutonic Order
17) Kingdom of Serbia-Bosnia
18) Kingdom of Bulgaria
19) Emirate of Qatar
20) Swati Kingdom of Kashmir
21) Bernese League and Swiss Confederation
22) Duchy of Pomerania
23) The Most Serene Republic of Venice
Part 5:

Twilight of Heroes


"And so we see that there is one foe even more irresistable and terrible than Timur."-attributed to Demetrios Komnenos​

1431: The quiet in Europe does not last long as Saxony launches an invasion of Pomerania. The Saxon attack is extremely successful, capturing Danzig after a siege of twenty four days through the use of an artillery train of thirty four cannons. However the plans of the Saxon Duke Hans Leopold I are thrown into chaos as the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II responds with the full might available to him, smashing aside the Saxon forces guarding the southern border. With his authority over Pomerania is virtually nonexistent, his claim as overlord through his imperial title a legal fiction, it is the perfect justification for attacking the one German prince that can possibly match the Dukes of Bavaria.

The Saxons had planned their campaign with the assumption that Bavaria would hold back a significant portion of its strength to guard against a Hungarian attack. Relations between Buda and Dresden are still very good, and Andrew III has made great progress in restoring his state to a great power. Relations between Targoviste and Buda are still cold, but Andrew has little reason to want a war with the Vlach state. His desire for revenge is concentrated to the west. For in the disasters of the Polish War, Bavarian coin was far too prevalent to be hidden.

Still Buda remains silent as Bavarian armies sweep all the way up to Dresden, where they are finally halted by the walls of the Saxon capital. On July 1, the Bavarian soldiers launch a tremendous assault on a pair of breaches in the wall. Despite heavy casualties they manage to fight their way into the city, where they are met with an earth-shattering bellow. A few seconds later Olaf Tordsson hits them.

With the death of Gregory XI, Olaf lost his chance to return to Sweden with the Papacy’s aid, as Gregory XII is not willing to endanger his support in Scandinavia with the intensification of the schism. So he is making his way back the way he left, the way of the mercenary. By now a wealthy man from the spoils of the Gunpowder Crusade, his company has swelled to five thousand men, a truly international force, composed of men discharged from the Ninety Years War and the Gunpowder Crusade. Alongside Swedish heavy infantry stand English longbowmen, Lotharingian landless knights, Castilian jinetes, and Aragonese almughavars. Drilled ruthlessly in combined arms tactics, led by Olaf it is a terrifying force, now in the service of Saxony.

The longbowmen lay down a withering hail of missiles as the rest of the company advances. As the heavy-armed troops slam into the Bavarian vanguard, the almughavars loose their javelins, draw their weapons, and charge in as well. Meanwhile the longbowmen shift their fire to attack the Bavarian soldiers moving up in support. After forty minutes of butchery, the Bavarian assault is sent fleeing back in disorder.

Two weeks later the siege is lifted as Saxon reinforcements arrive, joined by contingents from their German allies, Cologne, Cleves, Hesse, and Brunswick. As the Bavarian Emperors increase their hold over southern Germany, the northern German princes have become increasingly concerned for their own power, causing several of them to drift into Saxony’s orbit. Shortly afterwards Austria, the Palatine, and Württemberg enter the war on Bavaria’s side. Both sides begin wooing Prague, but the Bohemians refuse to enter the war on either side, preferring to remain neutral so they can sell cannons, powder, and shot to both sides.

In the waters of the Mediterranean, Genoa makes peace with the Hospitalers. The war had been largely a paper one for the past two years, as Genoa is shipping less supplies to the Marinids and focusing its efforts on the continued blockade of Pisa. Completely free from that quarter, the Hospitaler fleet turns with full fury upon the coast of North Africa. Modeling their fleet after the Romans, their galleys are now mostly equipped with light cannons and the Knights now field three purxiphoi. In October, their new fleet sacks the Marinid port of Mahdia.

In Baghdad, Sultan Osman II receives a most distinguished visitor, a craftsman from Bithynia. However this craftsman, whose name is Ioannes Donauri, is a gunsmith, aware of the latest techniques in artillery and gunpowder manufacturing through the Empire and in western Europe, having spent time in Castile and Normandy specifically for such a purpose. He is given a massive pension, and immediately gets to work forging cannons. The Emperor of Vijayangara has finally consented to conduct trade with the Ottomans, exchanging Maratha iron for Ottoman bullion. The trade is small, only allowing the production of cannons and not armor, due to the expense of shipping such a bulk item as iron ingots and the effect of Hormuzi raids.

On April 19, Manuel Doukas, eighty years old, lays dying, surrounded by his son George, his granddaughter Helene, and Demetrios and Theodoros Komnenos. His health had been poor for the last few years, and now he is feverish and delirious. Lying in bed he mumbles continuously, mostly gibberish, but here and there Demetrios can discern a military command. But soon one word is repeated over and over again, “Manzikert. Manzikert.” Then his voice rattles, sighs, and whispers “Victory.” Manuel Doukas, Guardian of the Empire, dies with a smile on his lips.

He is given a lavish state funeral, befitting his stature as a Roman Emperor. But he is not buried in Constantinople, but per his request his body is laid to rest at the Monastery of St. Theodoros Megas at Manzikert. He wants to lie amongst the people of eastern Anatolia, among whom he was born and who he protected and was protected by during the Timurid invasions and the War of the Five Emperors. The monastery, already a center of pilgrimage because of the relics there, becomes even more of a site as pilgrims also go there to visit the tomb of their emperor. There he is not known as the Guardian of the Empire, the Shield of the Romaioi, the Lion of Theodosiopolis, the Bane of the East. Here, in the lands he called home, he is simply known as the Protector.


The Death of the Emperor Manuel III Doukas by Giorgios Kaukadenos, 1469. Virtually none of the painting is faithful to history. The author, who was friends with many in the sizeable Arletian merchant community of the day, was heavily influenced by Arthurian legend, a theme that appears in many of his paintings.​

With the death of Manuel Doukas, the loyalty of eastern Anatolia to the Komnenid dynasty is somewhat weakened. Theodoros IV, as he is married to the granddaughter of Manuel, becomes the public face of Constantinople in the east, observing the tagma reviews of the Chaldean and Coloneian themes with his wife at his side, who is visibly pregnant. In Trebizond she gives birth to a daughter, Anastasia Laskaris Doukas Komnenos.

The rebellion though actually ends up taking place in southern Epirus when a man appears in Arta, claiming to the rightful Emperor John V Laskaris, son of Theodoros III who had been slain at Caesarea. There is an awkward start when some of the town council members point out that an eunuch cannot be emperor, forcing John to drop his pants in public to prove that he is fully functional.

Despite the unbecoming beginning, John actually manages to gain a respectable following amongst the Epirote population. Even the presentation of the real John V, a castrated monk, does not slow it down. That is because Bedros Laskaris, son of Andronikos II Laskaris (the eldest son of the emperor who started a civil war in the late years of Anna I’s reign-he survived Anna’s purges intact only because he was four at the time), endorses the pretender. The rebellion is centered mainly amongst the lower-class artisans and peasant farmers.

Why the rebellion is able to gain impetus is because of the way the view of a good emperor has been shaped by the Laskarids. The tradition of the builder emperor, raising up edifices to improve his subject’s wealth and lives such as aqueducts and marketplaces, as opposed to less directly beneficial venues such as churches or palaces, began with Theodoros II Megas, although it only became firmly established with Anna I. By now, a century later, it is essentially mandatory for an emperor to maintain this tradition.

The civil war started by Bedros’ father in the 1370s had largely played on the alienation of Europe from the Laskarids. It is the same now with the Komnenids. Italy and Crimea have seen a great deal of construction because of their position on the frontier, while Anatolia has seen much because it is the economic powerhouse of the empire. Meanwhile Europe is comparatively silent, with less projects and the ensuing business opportunities that follow in their wake. The peasants and artisans in Epirus are particularly angry because, despite repeated appeals for improvements, the road system in the area outside of Dyrrachium remains poor. As a result, these lower class individuals have a much harder time getting their goods to the town fairs, which are seen as the major money-making opportunities. Instead the Komnenids have been putting the funds for infrastructure improvement into eastern Anatolia because of the need to conciliate the inhabitants there as Manuel Doukas’ end drew near.

The rebellion ends up fizzling however as the local tagma troops are not willing to join in the movement. Many of them either received their positions from Demetrios Komnenos or from Thomas Laskaris, the man who had exiled John V during the War of the Five Emperors. With the rebellion beginning to spread beyond Arta district, the Epirote tagma is called up to squash the revolt. Against real troops, the artisans and peasants stand little chance. After three ‘battles’ which leave at least a total of two hundred and fifty rebels dead, John and Bedros Laskaris are captured. They are castrated, tonsured, and exiled to monasteries near Amorium, along with all of Bedros’ male heirs. The surviving rebels have their taxes tripled for the next three tax cycles, although some of those funds are diverted to improving the road network in the region.

1432: The Pomeranian War expands outside of Germany as both Poland and Hungary enter the fray. Poland launches a surprise attack on Danzig which fails, forcing the Polish army to begin a siege of the major port. To further their power over that of the Polish nobility, the Kings in Krakow have been encouraging grain production for export (where it can be taxed via export tolls); control of Danzig would greatly facilitate that. This is a facet of the Polish kings’ efforts to raise up a class of burghers to counteract their nobles, an effort strengthened by the influence of Presporok merchants and the example of the Roman Empire. The Polish crown prince Jan Piast has a copy of Giorgios Akropolites’ History of the Roman Empire, which covers the reign of Theodoros II Megas, including a sizeable section on the Nobles’ Revolt and aftermath.

Andrew III launches a massive invasion of Styria, driving hard for the city of Vienna. The various towns in his path do not last long, as he has rebuilt his artillery train through a combination of native production and purchases from Bohemian and Roman foundries. He has also invested heavily in creating a sizeable corps of stout Croatian infantry who are very effective at taking strong places, alongside squadrons of Hungarian knights disciplined after the Serbian model. Although weaker in missile power than his armies in the 1410s and early 1420s, it is still a very formidable force.

It is paid with the increased exploitation of Hungary’s abundant silver and copper mines. The death of most of the German mine owners during the Vlach revolt allowed Andrew to impose heavier taxes on the new owners, in the name of protecting the mines and operators from Vlach incursions. There are even a few rumors that Andrew actually paid Vlad to make a few demonstrations in order to convince the owners to accept.

Although Poland is attacking his ally Saxony, Andrew does not attack his northern neighbor, focusing all of his attention on Bavaria. With better disciplined infantry, he is able to prevent his men from sacking Vienna when it capitulates. A sign of the new Hungarian discipline is shown in Andrew’s order that men quartered in a home are allowed to demand a bed, two pots (one for use as a chamber pot, another for cooking), and a right to cook at the fire. To take anything else is punished by castration (taken from Roman military justice codes).

As Bavaria and Saxony are both occupied, Denmark finally launches its long-awaited attack upon Lubeck. The city is well defended by fortifications and a small but effective fleet, but the Danes soon place the city under blockade. On land it is very tight, but Hansa merchants turn out to be very adept at smuggling supplies through the naval blockade. To the east the Saxons battle back against the Poles with mixed success. At Grob Mollen (OTL modern Mielno), the Saxons savage a Polish army that foolishly tries to charge the Saxon Castilian-style earthworks, but at Stettin three weeks later a Polish column sweeps a Saxon army off the field in a mass cavalry charge before the Saxons are able to form up.

In Constantinople, Demetrios receives more reports of skirmishes in Crimea. Tatar riders have been increasingly crossing the border, burning crops and enslaving peasants, which is also interfering with the fur trade (the slave trade in the region is not popular with Roman merchants as African slaves are preferred because they are better workers on the sugar plantations). Aware of what happened the last time he ignored a raider problem, Demetrios authorizes counterattacks into Blue Horde territory. Overall they are a mixed success, as Tatar horsemen are able to match Turkopouloi when it comes to horse archery, but when Sarai protests, the Khan receives a warning from Demetrios that ‘he should control his subjects, otherwise foreign princes will do it for him’.

George Doukas, son of Manuel Doukas, begins an on-and-off tour to foreign lands in order to improve his medical knowledge, as well as that of the Roman people, by studying the medicinal techniques of others. Although by this time the archiatros is fifty six, he is still remarkably fit for his age, explaining it by the high-vegetable, low-meat, no-alcohol nature of his diet. His first stop is Georgia, where the Georgian King Konstantin II Bagrationi is delighted to meet him.

Further south, the chaos in the Mameluke Sultanate continues as Barsbay’s advance is halted at Jaffa. Ferocious fighting continues all throughout the region as the rebel leader solidifies his control of Syria and manages to capture Jerusalem. His capture of the holy city is marred however when he gives into the calls of some of the more fanatical imams (who complain that the Mameluke Sultans, the defenders of the Holy Cities of Islam, have done little to protect the faith against the Roman advance-the last Mameluke-Roman war was in the 1320s) and massacres over a thousand Christian pilgrims, a mix of Catholic, Orthodox, and Ethiopians.

Meanwhile the chaos is causing Mameluke control over Arabia to slip. Yemen has long been ruled by a cadet branch of the Burji dynasty, the same dynasty that rules Cairo. However Yemen is also a vassal of Cairo, a condition imposed because of repeated Yemeni attempts to monopolize the Red Sea trade to the detriment of Egypt. So a month after the fall of Jerusalem, Sana’a repudiates all ties of vassalage to Cairo, defeating a Mameluke fleet off Sajid island with the support of dissidents from the Hedjaz. With control over the Bab el-Mandeb, the Yemeni Emirs begin requiring each ship passing through the strait from either direction to pay a toll.

In the Persian Gulf the naval war continues as Osman II orders an attack on Bahrein, seizing the island from the neutral Arab Emirate of Qatar for use as a naval base. The protests are ignored. With the capture of Bahrein, the momentum starts to swing in favor of the Ottomans. Roman supplies are of great help in that regard as the great shipyards of Trebizond are connected to the border by a network of roads (Demetrios is willing to sell naval supplies to Baghdad because the Ottomans cannot use a fleet against the Romans).

With the removal of the Turkmen threat, trade has picked up substantially between the Ottomans and Romans. Now with the Persian invasion and subsequent Ottoman demands for military equipment, Roman military stores have started being smuggled across the border despite its prohibition. The main problem with enforcing that edict is that many of the soldiers who are responsible for border security are in fact the ones smuggling.

With their access to the warehouse system, the border soldiers are in an ideal position for the illicit traffic. They can get their equipment cheap and easily and know the layout of the border. Ironically Hakkari becomes a major way point in this illegal traffic. To counteract this threat, Theodoros (who is now largely responsible for eastern Anatolian affairs), decides not to try and crush it, which would antagonize the locals, but to co-opt it.

The prohibition is shrunk, outlawing only the export of steel lamellar and plate armor, which because of their size and weight is not a common smuggler’s item anyway. Allowed to trade in the open now, eastern merchants now enter the trade, exporting weapons and mail armor to the Ottomans and paying export duties on them. To discourage soldiers from abusing the warehouse system, Theodoros (with Demetrios’ permission) institutes a purchase registry for each soldier, to keep track of any soldier buying an unusually large amount of equipment. Starting in the Coloneian theme, it is spread over the rest of the Empire over the next few years.

The soldiers themselves are somewhat annoyed by being cut out of the smuggling system. To conciliate them, Theodoros promises that in next year’s construction budget funds will be devoted to improving roads in eastern Anatolia, so that their families will have an easier time bringing goods to the markets. It is a promise he keeps.

At the same time in Constantinople Demetrios and the strategoi are drawing up three battle plans, one against the Mamelukes, one against the Bulgarians, and one against the Blue Horde. Part of the Bulgarian plans involve an attack on Serbia, in case Lazar decides to contest the region. So far he has not taken advantage of the Bulgarian chaos, due to unrest in Bosnia and a few border disputes with Vlachia, but that could change. Serbia’s army may be small, but its heavy cavalry demands respect.

However it is the latter plan that is considered the highest priority, as Tatar riders continue to prick at Theodoro despite the counter-raids while a new Khan has risen to prominence. His name is Jabbar Berdi, styling himself after the Mongol Khans of old, and he is busy slowly working to bring his domains under his effective control. At the moment, Novgorod-Lithuania is having a particularly nasty border skirmish with the Bonde in Finland, while Pronsk is quarrelling with Perm. With Vlachia and Georgia wary of taking on even an under-strength Blue Horde, only Constantinople is in a position to sabotage the Khan’s efforts. Roman agents in the Horde begin making contact with various chieftains opposed to Jabbar Berdi’s centralizing efforts, slipping them small subsidies. Also as part of the preparations for the plans, orders for a new type of light cannon are placed, alongside directives for the construction of new purxiphoi to replace the ones lost at Melilla.

* * *

Cities of Rhomania, c. 1435

Besides Constantinople, the largest city in the world outside of China, the Second Komnenid Roman Empire is dotted with cities. It is the most heavily urbanized society in the world, with roughly one-sixth of its population living in settlements with ten thousand people or more. While extremely low compared to industrial times, considering the technology of the day, it is an impressive achievement, showcasing exemplary achievement in administration, transportation of goods (particularly foodstuffs), and sanitation. Below is a list of the fifteen largest cities in the Roman Empire c. 1435.

Constantinople: The Norse call it Miklagard, the Russians Tsargrad. Also known as the City of the World’s Desire, the Queen of Cities, to many in the eastern Mediterranean it is simply known as The City. Capital of the Roman Empire, a major seaport, and home to the largest Roman university, it is also home to a sizeable armor and gun manufacturing district, and has the most literate population of any city or district in the Empire. Population: 330,000.

Antioch: Although it came close, the city was never sacked by the Mamelukes and its capture by then prince Manuel (II) Laskaris was relatively bloodless. Because of its historical significance as a Greek and Roman city, the Laskarid Emperors put tremendous effort into reviving this city as a true metropolis. Also the seat of a Patriarchate and University, it is a massive thoroughfare, one of the western termini of the Silk Road. The School of Medicine’s student body is one third Muslim, many of them hailing from Muslim countries and commanding high salaries when they graduate and return home. Antiochene merchants are some of the most expansionist citizens of the Empire, urging further conquests of the Levant both to provide a larger foodstuff-producing hinterland and to cut down on rival Mameluke trade ports. Population: 155,000.

Thessalonica: Usually the second city of the Empire, it dropped into third place during the Black Death, which did not affect Antioch as heavily due to more developed sewer systems. It is also a major trade port, through which flows most of Macedonia’s trade. Its trade fair is quite probably the largest in Europe, and its University often sees some students from Western Europe. Population: 125,000.

Nicaea: Home to an University, the city is also of great historical and symbolic importance to the Romans due to its role as the capital during the Exile. While not on the sea, its trade fair, bolstered by the tagma reviews, is still sizeable. It is also situated near sizeable textile, soap, and glassmaking industries. Population: 76,000.

Smyrna: A major seaport, through which flows most of the Empire’s exports of alum, mastic, and olive oil. It also has an University, most famous for its school of astronomy. It is even rumored that some of the faculty have suggested that the earth orbits the sun, not the other way around. It is often used as a second capital by the Komnenid Emperors, due to its role as their capital during the War of the Five Emperors. Population: 73,000.

Trebizond: Birthplace of the printing press, a Silk Road terminus, home of an University skilled in Mathematics, and the site of a massive shipbuilding complex, Trebizond is the fastest growing city and arguably even more cosmopolitan than Constantinople. There is even a small Buddhist stupa, maintained by the handful of Kashmiri merchants who trade their superb carpets. The city and its environs are also becoming a sort of vacation resort for wealthy nobles and merchants and has the most printing presses per capita of any city in the Empire, including Constantinople. Population: 64,000.

Aleppo: The most heavily Muslim of the Empire’s great cities, its size is largely due to its strategic position near the Mameluke border, as well as on the main road to Antioch from the east. Its Great Mosque, constructed in the 700s, remains a mosque, and after a renovation in 1426 is considered to be one of the most beautiful Muslim buildings in the world. Population: 52,000.

Dyrrachium: Situated at the western end of the Via Egnatia (which is still well maintained and in use), the city is also a sizeable port. It is a common departure point for Italy, and is home to a sizeable Italian community composed of Venetians, Genoese, and Pisans with a growing number of Urbinese and Anconans. The Epirotes are the greatest proponents of expansion into Italy, both to curb Italian merchants and to pay back the Neapolitans for their repeated attempts to invade, the latest of which was during the War of the Five Emperors. Population: 46,000.

Attaleia: A major stopping point for pilgrims traveling to Outremer, the city is also a major export point for central Anatolian products, particularly from its growing cattle ranches. Population: 39,000.

Nicomedia: It is considered that the best silk comes from Nicomedia. The silk industry, although small compared to the one around Corinth, is the major force behind the economy. Population: 32,000.

Bari: A sizeable trade port, the first foothold of Roman rule in Italy is by now entirely a Greek city. A petition has been made to establish a new university there to replace the defunct Catholic one in Salerno. Population: 30,000.

Corinth: The largest city in southern Greece, it has a sizeable port which exports the textiles and wine that are the main products of the Peloponnesus. Fifteen percent of the population is Jewish, mainly working in the textile and much smaller glassmaking industry. Population: 25,000.

Iconium: Outside of Nicaea, this is the largest inland city, situated on several key roads crossing Anatolia. The region itself does not produce many manufactured goods, but mostly animal products. The main exception is its leather products, which are in high demand as book bindings for merchants. Population: 23,000.

Caesarea: The premier city of the Coloneian theme, its importance also rests due to its position along the road network. Its trade fair, bolstered by the tagma reviews, is also fairly sizeable. Population: 21,000.

Nicosia: The largest settlement on Cyprus, it is the debarkation point for most of the island’s famous and lucrative sugar production. Less happily, it is also home to the largest slave market in the Roman Empire, specializing in Sudanese ‘products’. Population: 18,000.

* * *

1433: The Genoese-Pisan war finally comes to an end with a crushing Genoese victory. Pisa is forced to pay a massive indemnity and is forbidden to trade in Tunis or the Low countries (to which Genoa dispatches two heavily armed convoys a year) ever again. Because of the long blockade, Genoese merchants have managed to gobble up most of the Pisan merchant contacts in the western Mediterranean. Pisa had held out for so long to its ultimate detriment due to the encouragement of the Pope, who is a major source of business as he encourages pilgrims to use Pisan transports. Unfortunately for them John XXIII had not done more because he is fearful of pushing Genoa into the Avignon camp.

But with the continued whispers of Giovanni Loredan and now this, John XXIII is finally stirred into action. On March 19, he formally excommunicates Doge Alessi and lays an interdict on the Republic of Genoa. When the news reaches Milan, the Duchy’s armies begin to move south, preceded by a herald with a declaration of war. Convincing Milan to move against Genoa took all of Giovanni’s skills. While the Duchy is the most powerful Italian state (except the Roman Empire), its main quarrel is with Florence over Modena. The reason Milan has not moved already to regain its lost territory is that an attack on Florence would likely bring in Venice, Lucca, Bologna, and Ravenna on Florence’s side. Milan’s ally of Siena is not enough to address the imbalance.

However against Milan, Genoa stands alone. Its powerful fleet is useless at stemming the Milanese tide. Possible allies are limited. Florence has netted a powerful defensive alliance, but not an offensive one and so will not help. Savoy is too weak and frightened of Milan. Arles is a commercial rival and war-weary anyway. The Bernese are simply not interested while the Swiss are too expensive.

Mohammed in al-Andalus actually offers the aid of an army if Genoa provides the transport and supplies, an offer Andrea Alessi is forced to turn down with reluctance. Bringing a Muslim army in Italy would certainly bring down the condemnation of all of Christendom upon the Republic. So Andrea turns to the last remaining source. As Milanese troops sweep through Liguria largely unchallenged, all of Genoa’s strength is diverted into protecting the city itself. Two weeks before the siege begins on May 20, the Doge sails for Constantinople.

He arrives to find Demetrios on death’s door, with Theodoros in command of the city and Empire. Demetrios had traveled to the Crimea, to personally oversee the construction of new earthen strongholds in the region as well as to dispatch a series of ferocious raids into Horde territory to counter Tatar attacks. But while he was there he was assaulted by a Tatar column, and one arrow struck him in the belly (because of the heat he was not wearing armor at the time). George Doukas, still in Tbilisi, traveled to the Crimea to tend him. For a while, he recovered enough so that he could return to Constantinople but has since regressed into a feverish unconsciousness.

So it is with Theodoros that Andrea must negotiate, not with his father with whom he has a personal rapport. The Doge had hoped that he could use that rapport to buy Roman military aid fairly cheaply, perhaps a small increase in the rent for Croton and Modon. But first Theodoros is busy dispatching envoys to Novgorod, Pronsk, Tbilisi, and Targoviste, asking them to attend a summit so that ‘we may deal with the Sarai problem together and for all time’.

Genoa wants military aid, but the question is what can Genoa offer in return for Roman help. Theodoros, who is interested in expanding Roman merchant contacts in the central and western Mediterranean, is quite willing to haggle over trade opportunities. Unfortunately for Andrea, the news from Liguria is bad as the Milanese have apparently hired English and Burgundian gun crews, using them to hammer breaches into Genoa’s walls. Help is needed, and soon. In the end, Andrea is forced to concede a great deal.

Genoese merchants are now to pay a four percent import/export duty, double their earlier rate (Aragonese and Sicilians pay eight percent, everyone else, including Imperial citizens pay ten percent), allow Roman merchants to pay only 60% of the usual import/export duties in Tunis and Genoa, and start paying an annual rent of 2,000 hyperpyra for Galata. While the agreement does net a good sum of money for Roman coffers, it does much to dampen Roman-Genoese relations.

Andrea’s bad mood is somewhat alleviated when he sees the armada being outfitted. Demetrios has regained consciousness and appears to be on the mend, although he is too weak for visitors. After receiving the news of what he missed, he approves Theodoros’ plans both regarding the Sarai problem and Genoa, but insists that a great host be sent so that the Italians will better fear them. Alexandros of Kerasous is placed in command of the fleet, with Dragos cel Mare in command of the army.

Andrea departs with the fleet, his six galleys being swallowed up by the Roman flotilla. Twelve purxiphoi (out of sixteen) and seventy galleys escort troop transports carrying the Thracesian tagma and four cleisurai. As a further effort to conciliate eastern Anatolian popular opinion by providing her sons with active duty bonuses and booty opportunities, the cleisurai are all from that region. They are made available because of the continuing Mameluke civil war. As they exit the Aegean, nearing Crete, they are shadowed by five Venetian warships. The flotilla arrives at Genoa on September 1.

The arrival of the Romans is enough to convince the Milanese to lift the siege. There is no way to take Genoa now, and to fight the Roman Empire and Genoa would be a bloody affair which could wound the Duchy enough that the other Italian states might jump in to take advantage of the situation, which could be fatal. Dragos leads his troops to follow the retreating Milanese, along with most of the Genoese army. Meanwhile Doge Alessi formally announces Genoa’s switch to Avignon.

The Milanese eventually camp at the village of Bagnaria, throwing up Castilian style earthworks to protect their camp which is also bristling with light cannons. Dragos recommends a blockade of the camp until the allies can bring up the heavy cannons, but the Genoese want revenge. They launch a fierce attack but are badly bloodied, fleeing back in disorder as the Milanese cavalry sally. The Roman kataphraktoi meet them in a great crash but the ensuing contest is a draw, both sides retreating with moderate casualties.

Now the allied camp is filled with argument, as the Genoese are angry for the Roman refusal to help the attack while Dragos is angry they ignored his suggestions. However the debate is cut short as news arrives that a papal army is marching from the south, allowed to pass through Florentine territory upon pain of excommunication. It is said to number eighteen thousand strong.

The Genoese are unsure of what to do about the threat, since although they are now with Avignon, they are wary of furthering angering a state with such strong influence over its Italian neighbors. Also their switch to Avignon is purely political, its removal something to dangle in front of the Pope to make John XXIII back off. So soon after the news arrive, it is back to the arguments. By now seriously annoyed, muttering that he prefers working with Provencals, Dragos decides that the Genoese can deal with the Milanese while he turns and takes out the papal army. The two forces split up on September 28.

Dragos races south, dispatching waves of Turkopouloi ahead of him who quickly begin harassing the papal forces. It is extremely unnerving for the papal soldiers, as the Turkopouloi in the cleisurai called up for the expedition are more Muslim than is usual in the Roman army. As the Italians march, they hear cries of “Allahu ackbar!” before they are cut down. The news travels to Rome, where John XXIII is quick to issue another statement, saying that “The Empire of the Greeks proves by these actions that they cannot be ranked amongst the nations of Christendom. Instead they take their stand amongst the servants of Mahomet.” Gregory XII comments on that, wondering aloud when the people of Melilla converted to Christianity.

On October 13, the Papal army arrives at Ameglia, a short ways into Genoese Liguria, and encamps for the night. A few sentries are posted, but the camp is not fortified. At around midnight, with a crescent moon, a handful of elite akritoi make their way forward, slitting the throats of the guards. Soon men awaken, hearing and smelling fire as tents begin to shrivel up into flames. Spilling out of their tents, ignoring their arms and armor, they frantically begin to create bucket brigades to quell the inferno. The Roman skutatoi fall upon the camp; it is a slaughter. Surprised and unequipped, the papal soldiers are cut to pieces, many choosing to run instead of fighting. All that changes is the minute of their death, as the Roman turkopouloi and light kousores are mounted and surrounding the camp. In a single night, Dragos completely destroys the Papal army, taking only ninety five casualties of his own.

He is in a good mood the next day, as he also captured a good amount of plunder. The army had been accompanied by several high-ranking priests, including six bishops, two archbishops, and two cardinals, all of whom were killed. They had all had in their tents large numbers of dishes made of gold or silver, often with jewels, as well as silk cushions. When it is distributed amongst the men, it is equivalent to three years’ pay each (including the active duty bonus). Dragos himself has a chest filled with precious jewels alone, including a ruby the size of a walnut.

However afterwards he receives news that the Genoese army commanders had continued quarreling after he left and so had been roundly trounced by the returning Milanese army. Genoa is again under siege, although the Milanese haven’t managed to completely envelope the city’s landward side as the Roman purxiphoi are stationed offshore, firing on anything in range. They are supported by new Genoese purxiphoi, laid down at the end of the Pisan War. Dragos marches hard for Genoa, but news of his victory and approach precede him anyway, causing the Milanese to break the siege and retreat out of Liguria before he can catch them.

John XXIII is utterly enraged when he hears the news of Ameglia. The only thing that stops him from immediately declaring a crusade is Giovanni Loredan. He points out that a crusade at this point will be impossible. Germany is up in arms, Bavarian, Saxon, Polish, and Hungarian armies marching back and forth, smashing each other at every opportunity. Lubeck has fallen to the Danish forces, who are now sweeping south into Mecklenburg. England is occupied with a Welsh revolt and Lotharingia with a Frisian one. If the pope calls a crusade and it fizzles just like the last one, it would severely damage the papacy’s prestige, perhaps irreparably. So Giovanni councils patience; the time will come, but not yet. John XXIII listens.

Milan too is also wary. The Milanese were never keen on this war in the first place, much less tangling with the Dragon himself, who in the west is far more feared than Demetrios Komnenos. So shortly after the second retreat from Genoa, the Duchy and the Republic make peace restoring the status quo. Laden with booty, Dragos and the Romans sail back to Constantinople, leaving the muttering Genoese behind.

As all of this is occurring, Alexios Palaeologos, the victor of Ain Sijni, invades Syria with the Coloneian, Chaldean, Syrian, Anatolic, and Optimates tagmata, fifty thousand men. There are many in the Roman court who are eager to take advantage of the Mamelukes’ difficulties while the civil war lasts. Their argument is that Bulgaria and the Blue Horde can wait, an argument Demetrios and Theodoros both accept. However the glow in some courtiers’ eyes, dreaming of Jerusalem, is not accepted by either Emperor.

It is to be a limited campaign, as neither want to get bogged down in the Levant. As the Egyptians launch an offensive from the Sinai, Barsbay is hard pressed but decides to focus on his southern adversaries. When they swing inland away from the coastal supply lines, he is able to maneuver his foe into a prepared killing ground near Jericho and wipe out twelve thousand Mameluke soldiers for only three thousand Damascene (after his operating capital of Damascus) losses.

With his southern flank secure, Barsbay swings north, force marching his troops to relieve the city of Tripoli which is under siege. On August 14 he launches an attack on the Roman army, timing the attack with a sally of the Tripoli garrison. While on the right wing the attack goes well, his heavy cavalry managing to chop their way through waves of akritoi, koursores, and even a thin line of skutatoi, on the left the assault is ripped to shreds by the newest model of Roman cannon, a light six-pounder, which are protected by an earthen ditch and embankment. With the left wing broken, the right is brought to a halt as kataphraktoi charges hammer at the stalled Damascenes. Eventually Barsbay is forced to retire, having lost six thousand of his forty eight thousand men.

The Romans took four thousand losses, but kept the field and took Tripoli. Alexios had concentrated his skutatoi and toxotai on smashing flat the garrison sally, then riding the wave of panicked survivors back into the city. Shortly afterwards peace is made with the Damascene Sultan, who is forced to cede all of the Roman conquests, including Tripoli, the second city of Mameluke Syria after Damascus itself, as well as the city of Homs. Another notable conquest is Krak des Chevaliers, which is repaired, renovated, and outfitted with cannons for use as a new border fortress. Meanwhile Barsbay vows that once he has taken Egypt, he will get his revenge.

1434: The Mameluke civil war remains a stalemate as Barsbay cannot, despite repeated bloody attempts, break into Egypt, even after his great success at Jericho. With it now clear that Egypt will remain untouched for a time, Giorgios Doukas resumes his medical tour as Demetrios has recovered from his Crimean wound, although he never regains his old strength. He visits the Mameluke Sultan in Cairo and is given a splendid welcome, as the fame of his medical talents has spread through the Muslim world (this is because many Muslim physicians study at the University of Antioch, Giorgios’ alma mater).

While there Giorgios further studies Muslim medicine and also, in order to further his understanding of human anatomy, dissects a gorilla and two chimpanzees provided to him by the sultan (dissecting corpses was contrary to Christian theology of the time, so dissecting pigs was the usual way of teaching anatomy, a method with obvious flaws). After spending several months in Cairo, Giorgios then backtracks to Constantinople to check on Demetrios’ health, then travels to Baghdad where he is met by Osman II in person.

Osman is back in Mesopotamia because he is busy organizing a great naval offensive designed to knock Hormuz out of the war. In the Persian Gulf the tide is turning in favor of the Turks, who can afford to throw bodies at problems in order to smother them. In Basra carpenters work feverishly to assemble an armada of vessels. Meanwhile Ottoman armies push along the northern shores of the Gulf, slowly edging their way toward Hormuz itself. Elsewhere along the front lines there is little action, although a series of raids roll into Khuzestan in order to keep the Jalayirid Khan pinned there.

Meanwhile in central Europe Bavaria, Saxony, and Poland continue to pummel each other indecisively. Only Denmark and Hungary see substantial gains in their campaigns. The Danes, consolidating their hold over Lubeck, have successfully overrun the Duchy of Mecklenburg, forcing the duke to submit to being a Danish vassal, his two children to be raised in Copenhagen. The Danish armies however have not marched further south, except to place the city of Hamburg under siege. They do not want to overextend themselves.

Also they need to keep an eye on the situation in Sweden as Olaf Tordsson has finally returned home, proclaiming himself the rightful King of Sweden. Denmark gave his approval to his cause after Olaf promised he would make no attempts on Danish Scania, a promise he is likely to keep as Bonde family interests are oriented more towards Finland, Novgorod, Livonia, and Estland. When he arrives, Gotland and Finland, firmly under the control of his relatives in the Bonde family, almost immediately declare for him, adding their militia troops to his company.

In Sweden itself, the response is much colder but still promising. Most of the countryside remains loyal to King Valdemar II, the king who had originally forced Olaf into exile. However Vasteras and Uppsala both join in support of Olaf because of Valdemar’s Hansa-friendly policies, giving Olaf a powerful foothold in central Sweden.

He lands near Uppsala in May, marching southward with a combined total of nine thousand men while Valdemar gathers his soldiers, about fifteen thousand militia and fifteen hundred German mercenaries, in Stockholm before marching north. Valdemar tries to lay an ambush near Vallentuna, but Olaf’s jinetes discover the trap in the woods. A fierce attack by the almughavars manages to drive the startled Swedish troops out into the open, where Olaf flattens them with longbow volleys and heavy cavalry charges. Valdemar II is killed during the battle. After thirty six years in exile, fighting from Scotland to Spain, Olaf takes his place as King Olaf I of Sweden.

Far to the south, King Andrew III has cleared most of northern Austria of Austrian and Bavarian army units, and even now cavalry raids sally out in Tyrol and into Bavaria proper. However his main army remains stationed at Vienna as Andrew’s aims are much less ambitious than during his first invasion of the Holy Roman Empire. Then he wanted to become Holy Roman Emperor, but now with a wracking cough that shakes his whole body, he is more concerned with leaving a strong and prosperous state to his son Istvan, rather than with enhancing his personal glory. To that end, he seeks not the Imperial title, but the duchy of Austria to replace the loss of Presporok.

In Bern, an order is received for fifty of the finest Bernese handguns. It is an order from Constantinople, where Theodoros is eager to take a look at these new weapons of which he has heard stories. He is particularly interested to see how well they perform penetrating steel lamellar armor, the kind worn by heavy Mameluke cavalry.

Eastern Europe also stirs as responses come back to Theodoros’ proposal for a summit to deal with the Blue Horde. After an initial round of negotiations in Constantinople between representatives, it is decided to hold the summit not at Constantinople but at Targoviste, the small but growing capital of Vlachia. This is done so that the Romans cannot dictate the agenda, something that Vlachia has no chance of doing considering the attendees. They are Vlad I Musat, King of Vlachia, Konstantin II Bagrationi, King of Georgia, Alexei I Shuisky, King of Novgorod and Grand Prince of Lithuania, and Demetrios I Komnenos, Emperor of the Romans.

* * *

Roman Local Government, c. 1435

Aside from Constantinople itself, the various cities of the Roman Empire were locally governed through city councils. These councils varied in size from town, often relatively in proportion to their population. For example, the sleepy town of Athens with its six thousand souls had a council of eight, while Antioch’s had over a hundred and twenty. Certain positions on the councils were reserved. These included a seat for the local bishop, the city advocate (essentially the city’s representative at the Imperial court), the chief judge of the city’s law courts, Imperial provincial officials (in district capitals), the head chair of the university (in university towns), the head archiatros of the city’s largest hospital, and the local strategos or tourmarch (in thematic or tourma-district capitals-this also include cleisurai capitals). The remainder were composed of the local dynatoi.

The dynatoi, the upper class of the Empire, was made up of wealthy landowners, merchants, business owners, clergy, and government officials. It was a class based overwhelmingly on wealth and offices held, not on a system of peerage. After the Nobles’ Revolt, Theodoros Megas had made sure that court titles could not be inheritable to avoid a hereditary aristocracy based on blood. With a focus on money and office, the dynatoi were far more dynamic than a ‘normal’ western aristocracy, as new dynatoi rose and fell with the winds of fortunes and the whims of their superiors. The result was an upper class that was not only much more involved in commerce (because of the large number of wealthy merchants) but also one that could not easily form into a monolithic block to oppose the Emperor’s will.

With that in mind, it should be noted that certain families still had an advantage in prestige and influence, and were almost always numbered amongst the most powerful dynatoi. The main ones were the Komnenid, Laskarid (from the cadet branches), and Doukid families, and drew their prominence from their close connection to the Imperial throne. Despite the fact that a Komnenos was on the throne, the Laskarid dynatoi were the most powerful due to their greater numbers and reach throughout the Empire, whilst both the Komnenids and Doukids were concentrated in Thracesia and eastern Anatolia. There were also some rural landowning families of great wealth and prestigious bloodlines; these were the Apokaukos, Kantakuzenos, and Kaukadenos families.

The prestige of their family names lend their members additional weight amongst the dynatoi class, but it was an informal power. However it was a power best used through the use of marriage alliances between upcoming mercantile dynatoi and members of these families, meaning that this subset never became a rarefied ‘super dynatoi’. Its existence depended on the continual influx of others with wealth and offices, along with its own resources in those fields, as its family name was not enough. For example, the Laskarids of Chonae were not numbered amongst the dynatoi as due to a lack of good marriage alliances (they were infamous for producing the ugliest daughters in Anatolia) had fallen on hard times and were mainly a family branch of scribes.

To be on the council one had to meet a very stiff wealth requirement, based on average annual income which was determined based on the property tax records. It varied somewhat from city to city, but Trebizond’s, one of the lowest, was set at a value twelve times higher than a kataphractos’ annual earnings, including the revenues from his estate. However there was a key bit of legislation enacted by Anna I, designed to cripple the power of the rural landowners. The wealth had to be derived from within ‘city bounds’, which was a circle which surrounded the city, its edge half a mile from the walls. As a result, the exceedingly wealthy cattle and sheep rancher Nikolaios Gabras was unable to participate in the Iconium city council as his ranches were outside the bounds.

The duties of the local civic governments were limited mainly to maintaining the city itself, the walls, the allagion (the city militias) if appropriate, the hospitals, ensuring the swift and impartial treatment of justice, making local ordinances which had no authority outside the city bounds, and levying some taxes. Their power in the last regard was extremely limited as Empire-wide taxation was entirely in the hands of the Imperial bureaucracy. In the capitals of the tax districts, the Constantinople-appointed official was on the council, and the determination of tax requirements and the assessors were all directed by Constantinople.

Also the cities were forbidden to levy any tolls on trade as Constantinople’s control over trade duties was an important part of negotiating with westerners, particularly Italians. The local taxes could only be imposed on residents, goods, and services that did not move out of the city bounds. Thus a merchant could be taxed if he rented a warehouse, but could not be charged an additional toll on the spices he stored there after paying the Imperial toll.

Aside from the fixed positions, positions on the council were determined by election from and by the local dynatoi. Terms of service, electoral procedures, and number of positions available varied widely from city to city, but all had in common the high wealth requirement for participating. This had the effect of bolstering the merchant/business owner over the landowner, as the former could encourage customers to patronize or boycott respectively political allies and opponents.

This option was largely unavailable to the wealthy landowner (who if he was on the city council was likely a merchant/rural landowner who usually identified more with the former than latter half). This was supported by Constantinople, who viewed wealthy merchants with far less alarm than wealthy rural landowners. The latter had an annoying tendency to rebel, while merchants enjoyed and supported the Imperial government that maintained the roads, laws, and army that ensured the peace and prosperity necessary for their livelihood.

Council positions were very prestigious, far more than their meager salary warranted. It gave publicity and respectability to merchants and ‘new dynatoi’. Council members often took after the Emperors, subsidizing construction works in their cities, which further added to their prestige. Many a new dynatos, still insecure in his new status and looked down on by the rural landowning aristocracy with its venerable (although politically useless) bloodlines, would strive to become a city councilman and build new markets, bridges, or churches emblazoned with his name.

In Constantinople, there was still a Roman Senate, in the sense that there were individuals with the title of Senator. The Senators were given the titles as a symbol of prestige, with no powers or responsibilities. Like titles with actual substance, it could not be inherited. Since it was an impotent title, it was given out at whim to random worthy individuals. For his victory at Lodeve, Dragos cel Mare was made a Senator, even though he spent most of his time in Smyrna. Some of the new dynatoi who had essentially purchased the title for prestige reasons had begun pushing for more power to be attached, with the most popular proposal being the Senate becoming essentially the city council of Constantinople.

The civic governments of the post-Restoration period (after 1272) have often been compared to those of the classical Empire. The cities were the focal points of the growing middle class and mercantile dynatoi, on which the Empire based its economic might. The effect of Theodoros Megas and the Nobles’ Revolt can be seen in the systematic efforts to keep rural landowners out of power in the cities. The reserved positions were for various bureaucratic officials (along with one token though highly influential seat for the clergy) while the very narrow-base democracy helped to keep the free positions in the hands of wealthy merchants and out of the landowners.

One proposal to expand the franchise in 1399 had been rejected without pause. If urban poor could vote, landowners could buy political support by cheaply renting out pieces of their estates. That would give them voters, money (from the rents), and a potential army. That was something no Roman Emperor could possibly tolerate. Konstantinos XI Komnenos Laskaris, the Emperor who turned down the proposal, said “This would turn Constantinople into Athens. The lords would use the poor to raise them to the purple. That is a threat that cannot be tolerated, a threat Theodoros Megas worked all his life to prevent. For her safety and glory, Rhomania must remain an Empire.”

The Titan of the East: Novgorod-Lithuania

They have two lords. The second is their king, a man, who must inevitably fade and be replaced. But the first, the greatest, is far more enduring. He is known as Lord Novgorod the Great.

Despite Mikhail Shuisky’s revolt in 1393, which resulted in him becoming the ruler of Novgorod, elevating the title from prince to King, Novgorod did not evolve into a despotic monarch on the Pronsky model. The city’s republican traditions were far too strong for that, and Mikhail in many cases did not even bother to try.


The Battle of Pskov by Demetrios of Larissa, 1459. Roman paintings of the time were heavily focused on historical events, particularly Roman history. However this is an example of the 'Varangian' School. This was not because they were painted by Varangians, but because they commemorated Russian history. This painting was commissioned by Alexei of Moskva, the second commander of the Varangian Guard.​

The King of Novgorod, unlike the Prince, was not an elected individual. Commonly the prince of Novgorod was actually a foreign ruler, who could enjoy great wealth from access to Novgorod, but who was foreign and too far distant to impose direct control. Mikhail’s greatest innovation was the establishment of a hereditary monarchy, which he consciously created based upon the Roman model. This was done prior to the outbreak of the War of the Five Emperors, when the Empire’s prestige was high after wresting Apulia from the Kingdom of Naples.

The new King obviously undertook the prince’s duties, which overall were fairly minor. He received embassies and oversaw secular court cases, but little more. But under Mikhail, the powers of the sovereign increased dramatically.

Besides the archbishop of Novgorod, the most powerful pre-Mikhail official was the posadnik. He managed the current affairs of the city and oversaw tax collection, which obviously gave the holder a great deal of power. When Mikhail became King, he merged the offices of prince and posadnik, giving the powers of both to himself. With the army firmly behind him because of the battle of Pskov, he now had the taxes to keep their loyalty as well as the diplomatic powers to maintain good relations with Lithuania.

Also the posadnik and now the King was the chair of the veche, the popular assembly of Novgorod. Composed of a mix of boyars, wealthy merchants, urban craftsmen, and free peasants, it was a relatively democratic institution, although many times the boyars were able to dictate the agenda. Mikhail broke it into two sections, the House of Commons and the House of Boyars, in order to break the boyar hold on the veche.

The houses were the ones responsible for developing laws and ordinances, with the exception of those relating to the levying of regular taxes and tolls which were kept in the monarch’s hands. Extraordinary temporary taxes had to gain the approval of the House of Commons. The levying of tolls on the fur trade, one of the main sources of Novgorod taxation, was the big exception to monarchial control of finances. That was also kept under the control of the House of Commons.

Only the House of Boyars could appoint the Tysyatskys, the thousandmen, originally a militia commander, but now a judge who oversaw lower secular court cases that were not under the authority of the monarch. However their choices had to be approved by the King, who also held the right to dismiss them without cause. However all the boyar members of the House were known as Sumbouloi, a Greek word meaning adviser or councilor. The title, being Greek, was considered to be quite prestigious, and the holders enjoyed special access to the King as compared to commoners.

Thus despite its Roman veneer, the Novgorodian kings had relatively little of the Roman Emperor’s absolute power. They controlled the army, most taxes except the biggest, and oversaw the courts and foreign affairs. But to actually make laws, the support of the veche was needed. Besides that, the King never ruled alone. The continued idea of Lord Novgorod the Great, essentially the idea of the state as a person, also acted as a check on the King’s power. For the Lord was the first ruler of Novgorod. And the second ruler, the King, was expected to remain true to that character. And given that the people of Novgorod drew their wealth from trade, the most important parts of that character were justness and order.

Mikhail also centralized the new Kingdom of Novgorod, which was henceforth to be more than just the city itself and some other stuff. The local towns and surrounding districts were ruled by local governors appointed by the King and approved by the House of Boyars. The direct method of rule also helped to tighten Novgorod’s control of the provinces after the Lithuanian union and conquests in Estonia and Pronsky turned the state into a true territorial empire. To the north the Ugric tribes were not ruled directly, but instead paid regular tribute to Novgorod.

Unlike in Pronsk, serfdom was not that common in the Kingdom of Novgorod. Again in an attempt to emulate the Romans, Mikhail deliberately broke up boyar estates (many of the boyars had opposed Mikhail’s reforms, leading an abortive revolt in 1397), establishing peasants as free landholders in addition to the already existing ones. Mikhail’s army was largely of peasant stock, and he used the free peasants to give the Novgorodian army a powerful corps of infantry, often armored in mail and equipped with axes or halberds. While the boyars were responsible for serving as cavalry in the army, the power lay with the stout infantry, which helped Mikhail to ensure that the boyars also paid their fair share of agricultural taxes.

For the sake of clarification, it should be noticed that in recent historical thinking, the term Pronsky serfdom is coming under increasing attack. Pronsky land ownerships was based on a series of large landowners who rented pieces of their estates to peasant tenants, unlike the series of independent smallholders common in Novgorod and Rhomania. Due to Pronsk's undeveloped economy compared to those two states, much and sometimes all of the rent was in the form of labor services, giving it a much more feudal flavor compared to Roman/Novgorodian renter-leaser relationships. Pronsky peasants could leave whenever they so desired and were not tied to the land. When a great landowner sold some of his estate to another great landowner, the peasants came with, the main reason why the term serfdom is still used so frequently. The peasants simply transferred their contractual obligations to the new owner.

Lithuania was united to Novgorod by the person of the monarch, but there was still ample interaction between the two halves of the union. Novgorodians and Lithuanians regularly intermarried, the armies frequently fought side by side against Teutonic Knights and Poles and later against Tatars and Pronsky. Also Lithuanian grain fed Novgorod’s fifty thousand inhabitants. The power of the nobility was stronger in Lithuania than in Novgorod. While the Grand Prince of Lithuania had control of the capital of Vilnius, whose court was held in Lithuanian, and estates throughout the realm, most Lithuanian governors were drawn from the aristocracy. Also in Lithuania the lower classes had much less political power, although that was starting to change at this time as Lithuanian merchants trading in iron and grain rose in economic status.

The Novgorodian-Lithuanian economy was based both on agriculture and trade, with the latter dominating in Novgorod and the former in Lithuania. The primary export was fur, but flax, salt, honey, and iron were also major exports. In Lithuania and the southern Novgorodian domains, grain production was also respectable, allowing the state to be a small grain exporter.

Unlike its Roman model, Novgorod-Lithuania was not very urbanized. Novgorod itself was far in the lead, but it was the only city that would have even moderately impressed Romans. The five largest cities were as follows:
Novgorod: 50,000
Polotsk: 22,000
Kiev: 20,000
Pskov: 14,000
Smolensk: 11,000
By comparison, Vilnius (usually known as Vilno by non-Lithuanians): 8,000 Note the concentration of large urban centers in the Novgorodian part of the Union. Both Polotsk and Kiev, Lithuania's greatest cities, were much more Russian than Lithuanian in character.

Despite the distance, Roman influence could be spotted. A true gentleman had to be able to speak, read, and write in three languages, Russian, Lithuanian, and Greek, while a good civil servant should be fluent in the first two. A few enterprising Roman scholars had come up north over the last century, but knowledge of Greek, as much as it was valued, remained relatively limited. Constantinople was more a city of myth, known as Tsargrad.

Novgorod had looked to the west, toward its trading opportunities in the Baltic and the Hanseatic League, of which it was a member. Novgorod-Lithuania however looked more to the south. In the halls of Novgorod, bards told tales of Kievan Rus. Besides the desire to draw closer to their co-religionists, strong in a state born out of crusades (the resurgent Roman Empire had caused most of Europe’s crusading energy to focus on the Baltic, a terrible crucible from which had been forged the Novgorodian-Lithuanian kingdom), there were also economic factors.

As towns in Novgorod and Lithuania grew out of the vigorous trade networks in place, there was a need for more grain-growing land, which could be most easily acquired to the south. Also there was a desire to trade directly with the Romans. The Baltic was a major market for Roman silk and jewelry, which was extremely expensive because of the distance. If the Novgorodians could revive Kievan Rus (a dream given solid form by Lithuanian control of Kiev) and restore the old trade routes along the great rivers, they could make a huge amount of money.

Novgorod-Lithuania was excellently equipped for such a task. The combination of the two large states gave the King/Grand Prince access to a wide array of troops, allowing the armies to use effective combined arms tactics. Along Samogitian axemen stood Novgorodian halberdiers, Tatar horse archers, and heavily armored boyar cavalry and Lithuanian knights fighting in the Polish fashion. Roman influence was most obvious in this area as their military ranks abounded. Strategos, tourmarch, and dekarchos were all used. The main exception was the title of droungarios, the commander of a hundred, which never seemed to agree with Russian tongues.

Novgorod was the stronger half of the union. More wealth was concentrated there due to a stronger commercial and manufacturing sector. While Lithuania did produce a lot of its armor, Novgorod was where cannons were manufactured. Originally cannons had been imported from Moravia, but they had been used to create a native gun industry. While one should definitely learn Lithuanian, Russian was the common tongue. Lithuania got its Orthodoxy from Novgorod, and although the liturgy was done in Lithuanian, there was little practical difference between Russian and Lithuanian Orthodoxy. The metropolitan of Kiev was almost always a Russian and he was the ecclesiastical head of the Lithuanian church, not the archbishop of Vilnius.

Thus by the time the Council of Kings was convened in Targoviste, Novgorod-Lithuania had clearly become the second most powerful Orthodox state, after the Roman Empire, and was one of the great powers of Europe, even if yet its presence had not been felt west of the Oder. While there were strong Greek and Lithuanian influences, it was above all a Russian state. For alongside the dream of restoring the trade routes of Kievan Rus was also the dream of restoring the unity of Russia held during that time. The Romans had recovered from the disasters of the early 1200s and restored their old, great empire. Now it was the turn of the Russians.

A Rebirth of Glory: The Kingdom of Georgia in the Late Middle Ages

After the death of Queen Tamar the Great in 1213, the Kingdom of Georgia fell on unhappy times. While to the west the Empire of Nicaea grew and prospered, both the Seljuk Turks and the Georgians felt the terrible might and wrath of the Mongols. Georgia lost the empire she had built up over the past decades and was forced to become a client of the Il-Khans in 1246. However even the territories left to Georgia fractured, provinces revolting to become independent states, a process supported by the Il-Khans as it gave them a series of weak vassals rather than one potentially powerful client. The nadir came in 1259, when the kingdom itself was split in two, with the Kingdom of Georgia remaining as a shadow of its former self alongside the Kingdom of Imeretia.

David VI (the Clever) Bagrationi was the first king of Imeretia. He worked tirelessly to weaken Mongol influence over his land, building relations with the Blue Horde and the Mamelukes. However his greatest diplomatic coup came in 1287, when his daughter Tamar married the future emperor Manuel II Laskaris in exchange for ceding all Georgian claims on pre-1204 Roman territory. It substantially boosted his prestige amongst the Georgian nobility, as he was now the father-in-law to the man who would one day become the preeminent monarch in Orthodoxy. His granddaughter would take the Roman throne as Empress Anna I. Unfortunately for David, he died before he saw his work bear fruit.

It was his son Konstantin I who took the throne in 1293 that saw his father’s dream come true. The strain on the Il-Khanate of standing firm against the Mamelukes, the Blue Horde, the White Horde, Chagatai and now the reviving Roman Empire proved too much for the Mongol state. In 1292 the Khan Oljeitu was assassinated in Isfahan by a Persian nobleman, throwing the state into chaos. Oljeitu’s attempts to wring more taxes and men out of every available source had earned him a great many enemies. When a civil war over the succession erupted, many of the local governors in the Il-Khanate took the opportunity to try and grab their independence.

Konstantin did take the opportunity to expand his holdings in Georgia, but also sent a contingent of two thousand soldiers to aid his brother-in-law’s father Ioannes IV Laskaris in his re-conquest of Anatolia. The Georgians (at this point more properly called Imeretians) fought bravely and were given pride of place in the victory celebration in Constantinople in 1300, where the famous phrase ‘an age of miracles’ was coined by the Patriarch of Constantinople.

The Roman capture of Anatolia further destabilized the situation in the Il-Khanate as Osman and his Turks poured eastward, wresting Mesopotamia from its Mongol overlords. As the lands between the Caucasus and the Indus continued into chaos, Konstantin struck. Over a period of five years from 1301-1306 he reclaimed Tbilisi, Samtskhe, and Nakhichevan and crushed a revolt by his younger brother Mikeli concentrated in Racha and Upper Imeretia.

By the time he was done, Konstantin had restored the unity of the pre-Mongol Georgian kingdom. In a massive ceremony, he publicly relocated his court from Kutatisi (which in Georgian eyes assumed a Nicaea-like significance) to Tbilisi. Once that was done, he set about reorganizing the Georgian state so that such an event could never happen again, which truly earned him the title “Konstantin the Great”. His source of inspiration was his neighbor to the west, the Roman Empire, now in control of virtually all of Anatolia and eyeing Cyprus and Antioch.

Because of his conquests and crushing of political enemies, Konstantin had a massive amount of land at his disposal, much like the early Laskarid Emperors. With those estates, he set about creating a tagma-theme system identical to the one in the Empire. Originally the focus was on cavalry, Konstantin creating special estates for heavy melee cavalry and horse archers.

However one aspect of improving his army was recruiting drill dekarchoi from the Romans. Many older soldiers there who had retired in Anatolia got new jobs training Georgian soldiers, bringing with them their knowledge of Roman combined arm tactics and military treatises. Their influence spurred the creation of infantry estates as well. Both infantry and cavalry took part in required review sessions, at which time the soldiers received cash payments paid by the king’s own estates, which remained sizeable, taxes on gold mines, and tolls on caravans.

The culmination of the Romanization of the Georgian military came in 1326, the year before Konstantin’s death, where the basic unit of the Georgian army became the tagma. Georgian tagma were organized on the combined arms principle like the Romans, although they were much weaker in light cavalry (the Georgians could not draw on the mass of Anatolian Turks available to the Romans as Turkopouloi). These tagmata, because of the smaller population base of Georgia, only numbered five thousand strong each. Aside from that, their organizational structure was identical to Roman tagma despite the distaste of some because of its Mongol-based structure. As of 1435, the Kingdom of Georgia could field a total of five tagmata, based in the districts of Abkhazia, Imeretia, Guria, Kakheti, and Tashiri.

Konstantin was succeeded by his son Giorgi V “the Magnificent”. Georgia remained at peace for most of his reign, with only a few skirmishes with the Blue Horde and the Qara Koyunlu to mar it. His epithet is due to his diplomatic, economic, and cultural achievements. When his cousin Anna I Laskaris re-founded the University of Constantinople in 1330, he made sure that Georgian students studied there from the beginning. Georgian tradition states that the first student enrolled at Constantinople actually was a Georgian.

He also reformed the law code, built a respectable series of roads and aqueducts (with the aid of Roman architects and Roman-educated Georgians) to improve trade and urban life, and negotiated with the Mameluke Sultans, securing the restoration of several Georgian monasteries in the Holy Land as well as the right of passage for pilgrims. He also encouraged caravans to pass through Georgian territory on their way to Trebizond, building up a series of inns at fifteen mile intervals alongside the roads he built and refurbished. The Georgian tetri was revitalized during this time, and the silver currency was given the ultimate tribute when it was accepted as legal tender which could be used to pay taxes in the Roman Empire, rated at a value of four tetri for three stavrata (silver coins worth one twentieth of a hyperpyron). His death day on December 2 in 1346 is still considered an evil day in Georgia.

Giorgi was succeeded by his son Alexei I, his name showing the sizeable Greek influence on Georgian society. Besides soldiers, many Greek educators and artisans eventually ended up in the Georgian kingdom, significantly strengthening it with their knowledge and expertise. Greek was considered essential for a gentleman, and the Georgian diplomatic service prided itself on its exquisite Greek which sometimes drew compliments from Constantinople. In 1350, his younger sister married Nikephoros Komnenos Laskaris, the firstborn son of Anna I.

Art and architecture, already influenced by Roman methods, grew more Greek, with a church of Aghia Sofia completed in 1358 that was a deliberate (although much smaller) imitation of Justinian’s church. Several new monasteries sprang up at the time, which played a sizeable economic role in developing marginal lands for agriculture. The Black Death did slow the process down and spurred many Georgians to emigrate to the Roman Empire. However the diffusion of Roman medical knowledge helped Georgia’s population base to start recovering at a respectable rate.

Under Vakhtang III, who came to the throne in 1369, Georgia once more began to stir. It was said that Konstantin restored the Georgian Kingdom, Giorgi the Georgian purse, Alexei the Georgian soul, and Vakhtang the Georgian Empire. Admittedly it was modest compared to what was to come, but the achievement was still impressive. In 1378-1380 he reduced Ossetia into vassalage. A decade later he forced their ethnic brothers in Alania proper to kneel as well. Wisely he incorporated them into his army, finally giving the Georgians a good arm of light cavalry.

Thus equipped he turned south, hammering with fire and sword the lands of the Muslims. Here he made no attempt to conquer, but merely to plunder as thoroughly as possible. In this he was given monetary aid by the Romans, smarting over the recent conquest of Armenia by the Ottomans. While the attacks are not directed against the Ottomans themselves, the chaos from the border drew in many of the northern Turkmen of Mesopotamia into the conflict. One of the early grievances between the Turkmen and Baghdad was that the latter provided no aid in the struggle against the Georgian chevauchees.

Vakhtang died in 1394, fortunately for the Georgian state. He was succeeded by David VII, who was far more peaceful than his father. As a result, the army of Georgia and Timur never crossed swords, sparing the Kingdom much potential destruction. It was in fact a Georgian guardsman who saved Timur from an Ottoman assassin in 1403. As its neighbors to the south were ravaged and conquered by the Lord of Asia, Georgia remained untouched.

Besides good relations with Timur, David’s main gift to his country was turning Georgia into an exporter of military equipment, which would become a massive economic boon. Through the use of subsidies and special contracts for supplying the tagma troops, he was able to build up the industry. The first major customer was the Genoese, who wanted more armor for their soldiers as they were concerned by the growing power of Venice in Maria of Barcelona’s realm. Manuel Doukas, Emperor of Trebizond, was the second major customer, using Georgian equipment to help outfit the new formations he created during the War of the Five Emperors.

In 1411 David was succeeded by the current monarch, Konstantin II. His great achievement was the further expansion of both the Georgian armament industry and the empire. After the death of Timur, his empire collapsed and the Georgians turned with full force upon the Qara Koyunlu. With Persia in chaos and a battered and more distant Ottoman Empire, from which Georgia was shaded partially by Roman Armenia, the goal this time was to conquer.

When the dust cleared, the Georgian state had doubled in size. It had a ring of vassals stretching from Ossetia to Gher. Tabriz itself had been placed under siege, fired upon by Georgian cannons, although it was never taken. Shirvan had been completely annexed, with the town of Baku becoming a thriving port on the Caspian. Konstantin deliberately encouraged Silk Road merchants to use the Caspian by providing ferry services across it to Baku, then building a road and inn system from there to Trebizond.

By 1435, Georgia was a prosperous, mid-sized kingdom. Beside the armament industry, there were also half a dozen printing presses, a small woolen textile industry, and a minor ‘tourist’ trade. Besides the area around Trebizond, many wealthy Roman merchants and nobles set up small resorts along the Georgian Black Sea coast (due to the Georgian practice of discounting parts of the property tax to encourage Roman investment). This had a habit of bringing in much Roman currency which was used in the Georgian economy; the Roman folloi were a common sight.

Georgia also had several small cities, which although small by Roman standards were still respectable in size. The capital of Tbilisi was the largest with 27,000. It was followed by Ani with 20,000, Dvin with 15,000, Baku with 12,000, and Kutatisi with 11,000. There were also a half dozen smaller settlements in the 5-10,000 range. There was a small Jewish community in Ani and Dvin as well.

While the Georgians did have a number of Muslim vassals (although the various Qara Koyunlu chieftains were gradually converting to Orthodoxy) Muslim subjects were not nearly as well treated as they were in the Roman Empire. That was due to the fact that in Rhomania, it was the Catholics who had broken the state. In Georgia it was the Muslims (the Il-Khanate, although originally pagan had converted to Islam), and as a result all the animus that amongst Romans was directed on Catholics was directed by Georgians upon Muslims.

With the Ottoman advance into Persia, further Georgian expansion to the south seemed unfeasible. As a result Georgian eyes turned north toward the Blue Horde. There had once been a time when the Georgians trembled before the Mongol. It was now time for the Mongol to tremble before the Georgian.

* * *

1435: Alexei travels to the conference via the Dniestr river, accompanied by eight thousand heavy cavalry. When he enters the territory of the Blue Horde though, he is met by Vlad and his wagon laager with eleven thousand soldiers. On their halberds are spitted the heads of at least seven hundred Tatar riders, who had attempted to skirmish with the Vlach force when it crossed the Dniestr, only to be ripped apart by concentrated crossbow and culverin volleys, supported by the roar of fifteen handguns. The Vlach and Novgorodian armies travel the rest of the way to Targoviste together.

Vlad goes to great lengths to prepare his capital for the arrival of his illustrious guests. It is a tremendous honor for the young kingdom to host the Council of Kings, as it is being called. Both the Roman Empire and Novgorod-Lithuania are vast states, the greatest in Europe, while the Kingdom of Georgia is a respectable power in its own right, with a proud and illustrious history behind it.

All of the guests enter via the west gate, passing by the pedio tou polemou (field of war in Greek) where Vlad has his culverin crews out conducting their monthly exercises. They are escorted by the Vlach heavy cavalry, a very small force, but clad in burnished heavy chainmail and a plate cuirass and helm, their great mounts clad in silk cloaks and steel barding. The streets are lined with Vlach halberdiers, lightly armored but with weapons and helms shining.

Not all of Vlad’s demonstrations are martial. Each guest is presented with a fine, dark red, silken shirt, made of Chinese silk (which is more prestigious than Roman silk, and of higher quality although the gap is increasingly small). They dine with silver cutlery, ornately engraved by the finest Vlach silversmiths (emigrants from Transylvania who are quite skilled in working with silver because of the nearby Hungarian mines).

Of course the three other monarchs have to make a grand entrance as well. Konstantin comes with his guard corps of heavy cavalry, both horse and rider armored in burnished plate, with great red plumes atop their helmets, brandishing steel-tipped lances. A third are also equipped with composite bows, although the fifteen arrows each carries in their quiver display arrowheads covered in thin gold leaf. Alexei also comes with squadrons of heavy cavalry, the richest Novgorodian boyars and Lithuanian nobles, equipped with their finest panoply. The great wealth of Novgorod is on full display, as each horseman wears over their armor the finest ermine fur coat. Also with Alexei are the Russian archontes tou kampou (Greek-lords of the plain), the most illustrious and powerful units in the Novgorodian army. The greatest contingents are the formations called Sons of Alexander (Nevsky) and Sons of Mikhail (Shuisky).

Maintained as permanent, professional units, they are armored horse archers, the men and mounts protected by the finest Russian lamellar. Equipped with composite bows, light lances, maces, and sabers, highly disciplined and trained, they are the greatest horse archers in all of Christendom, matching skythikoi at range and besting them in melee. They are not dressed up in finery, but are attired in all their martial array, advancing in perfect lines; it is an intimidating sight.

Of course Demetrios is not be outdone. Despite Theodoros harping on the expense, his father travels with the whole of the Athanatoi, who receive new equipment free of charge, including a plate cuirass for the skythikoi and skutatoi. The heavy cavalry are given cloaks of the finest Roman silk lined with gold thread, and every officer from the rank of dekarchos on up wears a great gold ring on their sword hand. Four elephants, a gift from Cairo, each covered in silk cloth and a diamond-studded golden headdress, bring up the rear. Also Demetrios comes with a dozen copies of the Bible as gifts, a dual Greek and Vlach translation, with a velvet binding, laced with gold thread, adorned with four diamonds each and with a gold engraving on the cover showing the Last Supper of the Christ.

He also comes with Dragos cel Mare, who is specially attired. On his shield, which has a gold rim, is painted a great black two-headed dragon, looking like the Roman eagle minus the globe and crown. Two great swords are clutched in its talons and above its heads are the words “Drakos tes autokratorias” (Greek-dragon of the empire). The Vlach people are most excited to see him. The monarchs may be rich and powerful individuals, the elephants may be strange and wondrous creatures, but they cannot compare to a living legend.

Also at the summit are several representatives sent by the Kings of Poland, Hungary, and Bohemia. While the meetings are held behind closed doors where they are not allowed to attend, the Catholic delegates are there to observe what is going on, lest it herald something dire for their realms. The most illustrious is old Jan Hus, a professor of theology at the University of Prague, renowned for his learning and his fierce opposition to the Bavarian Emperors.

The sight that Jan Hus and his co-religionists see is a terrifying one. For as the monarchs meet, the best troops in all of Orthodoxy drill outside of Targoviste, watched by hordes of Vlach children. The sheer discipline and precision of the troops as they relocate culverins and loose volleys of arrows while at the gallop is ominous as target dummies collapse with hundreds of arrows in them or disintegrate when struck by culverin shot. Jan Hus, although not a military man, is extremely impressed, wondering that heretic nations could be so powerful with such fine troops.

The notion that it is so they might chastise Catholic kingdoms for their sins is not one that appeals to him, as Orthodox arms have not often been directed to the west; it is Islam that has mostly suffered from Orthodox might, from Morocco to the Volga. His conclusion is that perhaps Orthodoxy is not so heretical after all, and during the later half of the conference he spends most of his time speaking with the Bishops of Targoviste and Nicaea. When he returns from the council, he begins a series of criticisms against the Catholic church which are heavily shaped by Orthodox theology. The most prominent and repeated is his rejection of the pope acting like the monarch of the church; he much prefers the Orthodox model where the Patriarch of Constantinople is merely a first among equals.

The Orthodox monarchs are concerned with the east however. Despite Jabbar Berdi’s efforts, many of the Tatar chieftains are unwilling to answer to Sarai (in large part due to Roman subsidies) while others are conducting raids on the Blue Horde’s neighbors. Just before coming to the conference, Konstantin had orchestrated a battle against such raiders, ambushing them as they attempted to storm the Caucasus, hemming them in with rockslides and then flattening them with heavy infantry charging down the mountainside. He left twenty six hundred dead on the field.

However as the conference takes place, ominous news arrives from Roman agents in the Blue Horde. Jabbar Berdi has been appealing directly to the tribesmen, going around the tribal chieftains who have been bribed by Constantinople. Appealing to their desire for glory by his constant references to the old glory days of the Mongols, he has managed to win the loyalty of many of the tribesmen.

Jabbar Berdi’s position is further bolstered when several of the chieftains are killed, their caches of Roman gold confiscated and a sizeable cut sent to the Khan. With that coin he is able to win the support of more vacillating tribes; as these had been the ones conducting raids on their Orthodox neighbors Jabbar promises that from now on the armies of the Horde will march only against the infidel, not against fellow Muslims as had been mostly the case for the last half century. The alarming news make it all the more imperative for the conference to succeed.

Greek is the common tongue of the monarchs, as all can speak it fluently, although both Alexei and Vlad have thick accents (particularly the latter). Konstantin’s Greek is flawless, speaking it like a Trebizondian. The initial proposal put forward by Demetrios is simple, a grand Orthodox alliance of the assembled nations for the purpose of dismembering the Blue Horde. All of them had been eyeing the Horde, but had been concerned with stepping on the toes of either Novgorod-Lithuania or the Roman Empire. By now both Novgorod and Pronsk have resolved their border issues with the Bonde and Perm respectively. There is initially an awkward moment after that when Konstantin wonders aloud why the Grand Prince of Pronsk is not present, even though his aid in such an endeavor is most useful.

The Grand Prince of Pronsk, Boris II, is dying. Although he inflicted serious wounds on the Blue Horde, it did the same to him. He led a cavalry troop that ravaged the environs of Sarai but was wounded by a Tatar arrow in the process. It has never really healed and now the resulting health problems will kill him. His only heir is his daughter Anastasia, who is currently married to Alexei I.

The proposed alliance is easily accepted, but it is the details that prolong the conference, how many troops are each party to provide and how the territory is to be partitioned. It is Vlad that suggests that the subject of partition be taken up after the victory is won, not beforehand. But due to the alarming and rapid revival of Sarai’s fortunes, the monarchs are agreed that if possible the entire Horde must be destroyed.

While the conference is taking place, Alexei receives a proposal from the leading boyars of Pronsk. Boris is dead, and in his will his son-in-law is to inherit the Grand Principality of Pronsk. The boyars are willing to not contest the inheritance, provided their conditions are met. Firstly, Alexei will not interfere with the rights and privileges they now possess. Secondly, a House of Boyars must be set up to assist Alexei in ruling Pronsk, with powers equal to that of the Novgorodian veche but with only boyar members. Thirdly, rumors have reached them of the conference’s purpose and they want in on the action. Alexei, his eyes glittering with the sight of a dream fulfilled, accepts all the conditions without hesitation.

The meetings had been interrupted, but now the King of Novgorod, Grand Prince of Lithuania and Pronsk, is eager to push forward. In the end, it is decided that the allies will launch their attack in April of the coming year. Vlachia will contribute fifteen thousand troops, Georgia twenty thousand, and Novgorod-Lithuania-Pronsk and the Roman Empire thirty thousand each.

1436: As planned, each of the signatories of the Targoviste agreement launch their attacks in April. Vlachia invades the Ukraine from the west via Bessarabia while Georgian troops swarm north from the Caucasus mountains. Meanwhile the Novgorodian soldiers sweep south all along their long frontier, but with the primary thrust directed down the Volga with the planned target of Sarai.

The main Roman attack is based from Theodoro with the goal of overrunning the Crimean peninsula. However at the same time, another Roman army is to move up the Don river, with the primary goal of securing the Don watershed and the secondary target of beating the Novgorodians to Sarai. Whoever captures the Horde capital will be in a great position when it comes time to divvy up the spoils. However that operation requires the cooperation of the Genoese colony at Tana. Theodoros proposes a demonstration by some of the purxiphoi; Demetrios wants to try something a bit more diplomatic. His proposal, which is accepted, is that Demetrios will drop the 2,000 hyperpyra that Genoa must pay annually for Galata in exchange for using Tana as a supply depot so long as hostilities continue between Constantinople and Sarai.

With a supply base secure, the attack is launched. While Demetrios himself commands the Crimean thrust, the invasion of the Don river valley is led by Pavlos Doukas, a cousin of Manuel. He is one of a new class of officers, one who basks in the prestige of being part of the army that bested Timur but is too young to have actually fought against the warlord. He is the strategos of the Opsician tagma, posted there in an effort to conciliate the eastern Anatolians who are enamored with the Doukas family because of Manuel.

Certain that Romans can overcome all odds, Pavlos races up the river, doing little to secure his flanks or fulfill his primary assignment, focusing instead on the glory that would accrue to him as the conqueror of Sarai. With ten thousand men he charges toward the Horde capital, unaware that the Khan Jabbar Berdi is gathering his troops, ready to fall on the isolated Roman column with almost three times that number. While his strategy forces him to abandon the outlying regions to the Orthodox Alliance, Jabbar hopes that if he can inflict a sizeable defeat on the most powerful of his adversaries, it might scare Vlachia and Georgia enough to cause them to bow out, allowing him to turn with full force upon Novgorod before the Romans can regroup.

From what little news he is getting of Pavlos, Demetrios is now seriously alarmed. Returning to the Crimea has been bad for his health, so he dispatches Dragos cel Mare up the Don river with a flying column of eight hundred cavalry and five hundred mounted infantry to order Pavlos to rein in his advance. Dragos eventually meets up with the Opsician tagma near the ruins of the town of Voronezh destroyed by the Mongol invasion, just south of where the Voronezh river flows into the Don. There the Opsicians have forded the river to prepare for the final assault on Sarai itself.

It is then that Jabbar Berdi launches his attack, when the Roman troops have their back against the Don, their artillery on the other side of the river. The Tatars press in close, making sure the Romans cannot disengage and retreat back across the ford. The missile troops do their best to keep the horsemen away but they are vastly outnumbered by the twenty nine thousand Horde riders. The skutatoi can do nothing but remain fixed in their defensive formations, largely immune to the missile volleys but unable to move. Dragos is unable to launch any of his signature charges as the kataphraktoi and heavy koursores are too slow to catch the horse archers in the open terrain, while the light koursores would be torn to shreds by the missile volleys. For now, despite their massive numerical disparity, the Roman army holds, but once they run out of missiles and endurance, they will be destroyed.

The Dragon and the Bear: The Battle of Voronezh

June 3, 1436

The Tatars were getting bolder. Closer they came, swirling in front of the Roman lines, pouring a black humming wave of arrows into the armored ranks of the skutatoi. The akrites, out of javelins, had already retreated behind that protective wall, although not before mauling the first squadrons of Tatar horsemen to enter into their reach. But with that screen gone, the horsemen drew ever closer, trying to ram arrows through the thick shields and armor of the skutatoi. Some of the toxotai droungoi were actually firing their arrows between the heads of the skutatoi, the enemy was so close.

Less than twelve thousand Romans versus twenty nine thousand Tatars. They couldn’t retreat in their situation; the Tatars would shred them if they tried to fall back across the ford. If they could make it across the river, they’d be safe. The artillery was being set up to cover the ford, but it could not fire across the Don. There was too much risk of hitting the Roman lines instead, and the last thing he needed was a cast iron cannonball careening through the hedge of skutatoi keeping the foe at bay.

Dragos gritted his teeth; he could feel the onset of another headache. He really did not need it now, but they had never gone away since that day at Lodeve. The thought of longbows made him look to the center, where one corps of archers was hunkered down behind their pavises, not returning the bolts. The others had been given free rein to shoot back, no longer firing in volleys but instead at each archer’s best speed, to help keep the enemy away, an endless call of whistling death. But that was not enough. One Tatar rider, either bolder or dumber than the rest, charged in, nimbly loosing his own missile.

Half a dozen arrows slammed him out of the saddle as his horse stumbled, five more in its flanks, crashing into the front rank. Two skutatoi went down under the impact as a Tatar squadron that was much farther off poured arrows into the small hole. There were a series of large clunks as most of them bounced harmlessly off the steel lamellar and one plate cuirass; Opsician troops were amongst the best equipped Roman soldiers. Several shrieks of pain showed that still some had found flesh.

An arrow bounced harmlessly off his own plate cuirass. Dragos made an exaggerated yawning gesture as another skipped off the steel lamellar protecting his left shoulder. He heard a laugh behind him to the left. He glanced back to see Antemios Mouzalon, the first tourmarch of the Opsician tagma, and the second in command to Pavlos Doukas. The strategos responsible for getting the tagma into this mess was currently off his horse, cowering behind a pavise shield.

“Do you want to take a nap, strategos?” Antemios asked. “I think it’d be okay. We can drive off these buggers while you’re sleeping.” A couple of the nearby men laughed.

“No, that won’t be necessary, tourmarch.” An arrow buzzed past the officer’s ear; he didn’t even flinch.

The men were tiring; his keen ear could notice that some of the archers’ volleys were slackening, even though they should still have a third of their arrows. But their morale was good; if they could retreat, it wouldn’t turn into a rout.

Dragos flicked his reins, trotting over to where his one fresh corps of archers was stationed. “Richard Hawkwood, prepare your men. On my command, you are to loose fifteen volleys at your best speed, no more, no less.”

The grizzled English knight nodded, then turned and bellowed, “All right, you miserable maggots, get ready to kill things!” The five hundred longbowmen of the Thulioi, the name of their regiment, stood up, their pavise handlers covering them with their shields. Based on his own suggestion to Demetrios, the Roman Empire had again begun the practice of hiring foreign mercenaries, in this case English longbowmen who had been decommissioned at the end of the Ninety Years War. While using foreigners rather than native troops went against 150 years of military practice, it was considered acceptable so long as foreigners remained only a small portion of the army. The five hundred here were half of the number hired; the remainder were in the Crimea.

Dragos looked over at Antemios and then pointed at Pavlos “Get that thing on his horse, we’re charging.” Now that the Tatars were getting really close, Dragos’ plan was now going into effect. The longbowmen, previously unused and thus a complete surprise, would stun that army with their deadly shafts. There weren’t enough to shock it for long, but that was all he needed. As soon as the Thulioi were done, all of the kataphraktoi and skythikoi would sally. It wasn’t likely they’d kill many of the enemy, who were far faster, but the Tatars would have to concentrate on them, giving the rest of the army a chance to escape across the Don.

“We’re charging?” Antemios asked, now on the ground dragging the quivering Pavlos to his feet.

“Pavlos and I are charging. You’re to lead the retreat.”

“Shouldn’t you do tha...”

“No. This charge has to work, which means I need to be in command.” Antemios opened his mouth to protest. “Do your duty, tourmarch, and let me do mine.” He nodded at Richard.

The English knight opened his mouth, sounding words that had never before been heard in Russia. “Longbowmen! Let fly!” The twang of bowstrings being let loose called out down along the line and five hundred whispers of death flew in the sky, the great shafts speeding upward. By the time they began to fall another flight had already sung out. The Thulioi weren’t aiming at the nearest Tatar riders, but at the ones in the second ranks. The close ones would be swept up in the charge; there was no point wasting arrows on them. The arrows struck.

Men and horses went down screaming. At that range, skutatoi would have been largely proof against even those great bows, but the Tatars were almost entirely light cavalry. The center of that great host reeled backward in disarray, even as the English loosed another volley, spearing more men and horses. The shriek of agonized horses, piercing, screaming, rose up from the plain as another flight of remorseless shafts sped down. Dragos looked out beyond the growing lake of carnage to the nine banners of the Khan, poles on top of which were circles, suspending black horsehair tails, a direct callback to the days of Genghis Khan himself. That was his target.

“Strategos! Look!” It was Antemios, his arm stretching out to point in the distance. Dragos followed it, beyond the Khan’s banners, fluttering in the breeze, to a series of three small hillocks behind the Tatar line, where a thick bar of horsemen were cresting. Above them flew more banners, emblazoned with a black bear and a white armored horseman.

* * *

“God’s wounds,” Alexei I, King of Novgorod, Grand Prince of Lithuania and Pronsk, muttered. The army of the Khan was almost enveloping the small Roman force, although its center had been badly bludgeoned. From his position on the hill, he could see the Roman dragon readying his cavalry charge, unlike the Khan who in his zeal to swarm the Romans had neglected to secure his rear. Unlike the dragon’s usual charges, it would fail. These light riders were not pinned against some obstacle or blinded by battlefield dust clouds.

Alexei had received news of the Roman strategos’ dash at Sarai some weeks ago. The trap he had fallen into so easily was obvious. If he’d paid any attention to the dispatches from his allies, he would have know that they were facing minimal opposition at best, a few thousand riders here and there, meaning that the Khan had concentrated his armies, almost certainly near Sarai. So he had raced ahead with a column of cavalry to help the Romans extricate themselves, receiving news on the way that the Dragon himself had arrived to take command of the exposed Roman force.

The situation was critical. Because of the need for speed, Alexei only had eight thousand riders with him, meaning that the Khan’s army outnumbered the allies by almost fifty percent. But those eight thousand were Novgorod’s and Lithuania’s finest sons, archontes tou kampou, lords of the plains. Between these men and the Dragon, it should be enough.


A reenactor of a Novgorodian archonte c. 1410. By the time of the battle of Voronezh, many of the archontes, including all of the elite formations commanded by Alexei, the Sons of Mikhail and Sons of Alexander, were armored completely in steel lamellar, making them immune to Tatar arrows except at point-blank range.​

He nudged his stallion in the side, trotting down the line, the sunlight glinting off his helm. “Sons of Alexander! Sons of Mikhail! Do you know what we’re going to do to those Tatar scum? We’re going to take our lances and shove them up their bony asses, that’s what! We’re going to rip off their heads and use them as chamber pots! We’re going to stomp them into paste and use it to grease the wheels of our wagons!”

He turned around to face the enemy, wavering in indecision about how to respond to this new threat. He pulled his lance from where it was strapped to his back. “Archontes, prepare to charge!” The trumpets sounded, the men pulling out their bows. Alexei wasn’t a horse archer; these men were. Their lances would be preceded by waves of arrows. He lifted his lance upward, stabbing toward the sun. “For Holy Mother Russia!” Eight thousand voices replied, the trumpets sounding, the banners blowing in the wind, and Alexei swung his lance forward. Eight thousand hooves slammed into the ground as one, the drumbeat of a nation, the drumbeat of a nation regaining its honor and its soul. The drumbeat of the Rus, once again sounding in the north.

* * *

A huge grin leaped onto Dragos’ face as the Novgorodians began their advance. They were smart, coming forward at a trot, saving the exertion of the gallop until they were almost upon the enemy. The Tatars began shifting to face the Novgorodians. They would engage in missile combat; fighting archontes in melee would be suicide. But since the Novgorodian horse were so well armored, they’d have to shoot their arrows at close range to have a chance of penetrating. And the charge was aiming directly at the Khan, causing the Tatar horse to concentrate in front of the direct center of the Roman line. They were ignoring the Romans, who had remained fixed behind their wall of infantry. But penned between two forces, focusing on the Novgorodians, the Tatars were a perfect target for the Roman heavy cavalry. They wouldn’t be able to maneuver out of the way.

“Megale Aloga!” he yelled. In Greek it meant great horses, the blanket term applied to both kataphraktoi and skythikoi together. “Prepare to charge!” All along the line, the trumpets sounded, the banners waving, signaling the men. The infantry began moving, shortening their lines, opening gaps through which the cavalry could move. Once beyond the infantry hedge, the heavy cavalry would reform their lines and attack. “Soldiers of the Empire! Advance!”

The horses started moving, Dragos reaching over to tug Pavlos’ horse forward. A well trained war horse, braver than its master, it followed its brothers as they swept forward. The Novgorodians were shooting now, the Tatars replying in kind as their foe leapt to a canter, closing the gap. Some of the riders, paying attention to the rear, starting spilling away from the mass of horse, trying to get out from between the onrushing sweep of heavy cavalry. Some squadrons peeled away, discharging missiles as they moved, the skythikoi responding in kind.

The Romans were fully formed now, the trumpets sounding again. They too advanced at a trot, the skythikoi sending out volleys of whistling death every six steps. The Novgorodians were drawing close, close enough that some of the Tatar arrows were spilling men from their saddles. The archontes leapt to the gallop, loosing one last arrow and then unfurling their lances. In the front a great figure in ornate burnished plate led the way, arrows bouncing off him. Dragos gestured at the nearest trumpeter, and moments later Rhomanion’s finest also leapt to the attack.

He felt young. The wind blowing through the holes in his helm, the buzz of excitement from both horses and riders as they leapt to the gallop, the smell of sweat, the snapping of the banners. He could feel it all, and he smiled. As the black earth of the Ukraine flew underneath the feet of his horse, he smiled, and remembered.

The first time he had ever mounted a horse, fearfully glancing between the worried, furrowed face of his mother and the snorting black beast underneath him. He was four. And then his father gently opened his small boyish hand and placed the rough leather reins in them. He remembered how he had gingerly wrapped his fingers around them, and felt the fear fade away as the horse quieted. It felt right.

He remembered Caesarea. The screams of the dying as Timur’s hordes beat against the right wing, here and there breaking through. And how he had rode them down, coating the tip of his lance in their blood, a small measure of revenge for the butchery of Sebastea. The numerous skirmishes of the War of the Five Emperors, the sickening stench of civil war. And then Manzikert, Great Manzikert, Glorious Manzikert. The day the demon had been banished, the day Anatolia had been made safe, the day he had become a legend, the day he had become a dragon.

It had been a long time since then. He had been a strategos since, directing campaigns and armies, but never again leading a cavalry charge in battle. He had won many a battle against many a foe. But his legend had been made on that dusty field at Manzikert, where in the open he had caught the enemy light cavalry with his heavy horses and crushed them. It was that charge that had made him a dragon, not Lodeve, not Ameglia, but Manzikert.

And so as he raced ahead in a great cavalry charge, just as he had done in Armenia so many years ago, he laughed. The headache was gone. He felt young again; he felt right again. No longer a tired old man with a chronic headache. He laughed again, still, the hooves of his horse pounding at the ground, once more the legend, once more the dragon. And that too would become part of the legend, the dragon laughing as he charged.

The Tatar horse were swerving, trying to get out on the onrushing clutches of the heavy cavalry. But they had to move sideways to escape both, and that took a little extra time, time they did not have. The first to strike was the Romans, Dragos gutting a Tatar rider with his lance. Although they had launched last, they had less distance to travel and the Tatars had not been expecting a sally. Two thousand Romans versus twenty nine thousand Tatars, long odds, but they did not fight alone. Their brothers in the faith stood with them. Thirty seconds later the lance of Alexei tasted a Tatar face.

* * *

“I didn’t know he could be killed,” Antemios muttered. “After Lodeve we all just thought he was immortal.”

The King of Novgorod ran his fingers through his black beard and grunted as the two priests, one Roman and one Novgorodian, bent over the body, praying for the departed soldiers. Antemios didn’t think they’d be necessary. Once his helm had been removed, the face of Dragos cel Mare was peaceful, quiet, as if he were sleeping now that the Roman priest had closed his eyes.

It was only when one looked down that Antemios had seen how his commander had died. On the left side of his neck was a short but lethally placed gash. Some lucky rider had managed to slip their blade in a chink in the armor. It was not likely he had long enjoyed his victory. Blood and brain covered the dragon’s mace, its owner’s body surrounded by enemy dead.

Antemios glanced over at the labor detail standing nearby, fidgeting with their shovels and staring at the body of their former leader. “He’ll be buried here, with his men.” The leader of the detail nodded.

Alexei started. “Are you sure? I’d think he’d prefer to be laid to rest in Constantinople, or perhaps Smyrna.”

“Yes, your majesty, I’m sure. If he’d died of old age at home, he’d have been buried there. But a death in battle, he’d want to lie with his men.” He rasped, his throat constricting as tears clouded his eyes. “With fellow soldiers of the Empire.” He bent down, gently, reverently, nudging the mace out from the stiffening fingers that held it. “You’ve done your duty, Dragos cel Mare, Dragon of the Empire. Let it never be said otherwise.”

* * *

The battle of Voronezh is utterly decisive. The Khan is left dead on the field with almost thirteen thousand of his cavalry, the rest scattered to the wind, all nine of his banners captured. Besides the loss of the dragon, the Roman lose almost seventeen hundred men, while the Novgorodians have about nine hundred casualties. As the Roman force is battered while the Novgorodians lack siege equipment, Sarai is spared for a time.

But the damage to the Blue Horde from Voronezh goes far beyond the loss in riders, even in the loss of their Khan. The death of Jabbar Berdi, their deliverer, is utterly devastating to the morale of the young tribesmen on which he had built his rule. Listless and dismayed, they scatter, showing little of their martial vigor in the operations that follow. Many of them chose to flee, rather than defending their lands.

Their attitude is not helped by news from the west. The Vlachs mourn the loss of their hero, but two weeks after the battle of Voronezh Vlad Dracul drives seven thousand Tatar horsemen into the Dnieper River with well placed culverin volleys. The Vlach king symbolically washes his sword in the river after the battle, proclaiming ‘the dragon lives on, in our memories and in our children, for we are his kin, a people with the blood of dragons.’

The Romans end up retreating back to Tana, hearing news that Demetrios is in poor health. Thus it is the Georgians, Novgorodians, and Vlachs which overrun most of the Blue Horde, the Romans only taking the Crimean peninsula. The Georgians are actually the first to commence the siege of Sarai, but it is not until the arrival of heavier Novgorodian artillery (floated on barges down the Volga) that the city is taken. Sarai is burned to the ground, its people taken away as slaves in Georgia and Novgorod. What is left of the Horde after Voronezh and Sarai does not last long, many of the Tatars fleeing eastward across the Volga into the Khanate of Perm, significantly strengthening the sparsely populated state, now the only credible barrier between the Orthodox Alliance and northern Asia.

1437: The Alliance monarchs meet at Theodoro to discuss the partition of the Blue Horde, jointly occupied by their armies. The beginning of the summit is marred by reports of another Bulgarian raid across the border. King George II’s hold over his kingdom has, since the Vidin War, devolved into a bad joke, and many young Bulgarians, bored and well armed, have taken to fighting each other.

However when the Thracian tagma was assigned to the Crimea (as it was the closest, it cost less to ship it there, thus Theodoros pushed for assigning that tagma), many of them turned and starting attacking Roman settlements, a few forays probing the suburbs of Adrianople. The Constantinople archontate inflicted a sharp defeat on one party of raiders near Mesembria, but due to the lack of coordination and organization among the bands, it had little effect on slowing the attacks. Demetrios is thus eager to get the conference over so that he can deal with Bulgaria and his own health, which disagrees vehemently with the Ukraine.

The second reason that the Roman Empire does not get a great deal of territory from the Theodoro agreement is more embarrassing; its showing was not that good. In the one battle where Roman troops met more than three thousand Tatars, they nearly lost and would have been defeated had it not been for the arrival of the Novgorodian archontes. All of the other participants have the laurels from the defeats of at least three medium-sized Tatar forces (with Vlad’s victory on the Dnieper the largest engagement after Voronezh). All the Romans have are the trouncing of a few isolated detachments in the Crimea.

Vlachia gains all of the Ukraine west of the Dnieper river. Almost immediately Vlad begins the construction of a major port on top of a small Tatar village, naming the city Odessos as it is believed to be near the site of an ancient Greek colony. Georgia gains the Don and Volga rivers as its northwest and northeast borders respectively, with a small land frontier with Novgorod-Lithuania-Pronsk where the two rivers are the closest. The Roman Empire takes the rest of the Crimean peninsula, with Novgorod consuming the rest of the Horde, including some Black Sea coastline. Genoa’s colonies at Vospoda and Tana are in a diplomatic limbo while the talks take place, but in the end Genoa begins paying Tana’s protection money that had originally been sent to Sarai instead to Novgorod. In the interest of good relations, Demetrios waives the protection money for Vospoda.

Demetrios returns to Constantinople immediately after the conference. Despite the best efforts of Giorgios Doukas, he is very weak, constantly coughing. The warmer climate around Constantinople helps, so in May he travels to Smyrna to stay there in his old palace left from the War of the Five Emperors. Pavlos Doukas is summarily discharged, castrated for criminal incompetence, tonsured, and then exiled to a monastery in the Crimea. The severity for the punishment is because his actions led to the death of the Dragon. He is replaced by Antemios Mouzalon.

Plans are made for transferring two of the Anatolian cleisurai to the Crimea to bolster the archontate and the two cleisurai already there. To forestall protests, the Roman state pays all transport costs and waives the head taxes of the soldiers and their families for the next two years. Once the appropriate paperwork is issued, Demetrios remarking that now he wishes the printing press had never been invented, because now he is drowning in paperwork, final plans are made for dealing with Bulgaria.

An embassy is dispatched to Buda, as under the Treaty of Dyrrachium from the 1390s, the Roman Empire cannot annex any Bulgarian territory without Hungarian approval, a clause designed to maintain the Slavic state as a buffer between the two powers. With the independence of Vlachia though, Bulgaria’s role as a buffer state is gone. Andrew III realizes this and still involved in Germany, is eager to maintain good relations. His price arrives at Buda on July 14, three thousand cast iron cannonballs (of varying weights determined by Hungarian gunners), two hundred tons of gunpowder, and sixteen Roman fifty-pounders, all of the transport costs to Buda paid by Constantinople. For that, Andrew III allows the Romans to do whatever they desire to Bulgaria.

The Thracian and Optimates tagmata are to assemble at Adrianople, where they will meet up with the Imperial artillery stored at the Constantinople arsenals. The goal is nothing less than the complete subjugation of Bulgaria. The Macedonian tagma is also called up, but is assembled at Ochrid to watch the Serbian border. Two days after Andrew III’s acceptance arrives, the invasion begins.

The Bulgarian army by this point consists of little more than a few hundred of George’s retainers, who remain holed up in Trnovo with their monarch. However the Bulgarian people, organized in ad hoc bands, turn out in force, skirmishing with Roman detachments, snipping at the flanks, and harassing the supply lines. It is noted by the Roman officers that many of the Bulgarians, despite being poorly dressed and barely bathed, have rather new maces in their possessions. One month before the Roman tagmata and artillery crossed the border, a Venetian squadron of twelve cargo vessels docked in Varna, returning with holds full of Bulgarian grain. Twenty years ago that would have been normal, but after the Venetian War, the Serene Republic purchases most of its grain from Egypt.

Still the Bulgarian attacks are only annoying, not enough to stop the Roman advance which slowly and methodically takes town after town. The Romans though are also hampered by several days of bad rain which wash out the Bulgarian excuses for roads. Moving artillery is extremely difficult in these conditions, and it is impossible to budge the great bombards. On September 2, one three hundred pound gun, her crew, and the labor battalion assigned to try and move the monster, are ambushed and cut to pieces by Bulgarian raiders.

However through skill and sweat the labor battalions are able to get the smaller pieces moving, even as Alexandros Gabras, commander of the Thracian tagma and overall commander of the operation, moves on Trnovo. The city itself manages to hold out for twenty eight days through the bravery of the garrison, but its fortifications, not designed to defend against gunpowder artillery, are not so stout. When soldiers finally storm the city, King George II Asen throws off his royal regalia, yells “God forbid that I should be a king without a kingdom!”, and charges into the fray to die as a common soldier alongside his men.

With the fall of Trnovo, the Second Bulgarian Empire is at an end. The rest of the country is taken by the end of the year. It is decided by Demetrios and Theodoros that Bulgaria will not be annexed, but turned into two vassal states. A cooperative noble, Radomir Shishman, becomes Duke of Vidin, while Petar Radic becomes Duke of Varna. They rule the western and eastern halves of the former Bulgarian state respectively.

Both have to send their children to Constantinople to be educated, and are not allowed to conduct foreign relations with any state, including each other. The Bulgarian patriarchate is abolished, but the Bulgarian clergy and liturgy are left undisturbed, with a ruling made that only Bulgarian clergy can have sees in Bulgaria (this does not include the former parts of Bulgaria conquered during Nicene times). None of them have a rank higher than bishop though and have Greek superiors. Internal affairs are left entirely in the hands of the dukes, provided that the required tribute in grain is sent. To further Theodoros’ vision of turning Bulgaria into little more than a large granary for the Empire, sizeable numbers of Bulgarian artisans and their families, at least two hundred thousand, are relocated to settlements in the Anatolic and Coloneian themes, the most lightly populated themes in the Empire.

At the same time, a series of twenty eight small forts are established, covering the main Bulgarian roads and the Danube frontier. These are to be garrisoned by Roman tagma troops on intervals of six months each. A schedule is set up, designed to circulate amongst the tagmata of Europe, who approve of the opportunity for active duty bonuses.

There had been a few incidents in the Danube delta between Roman troops and Vlach soldiers. Prior to the construction of Odessos, the delta had been the major departure point for Vlach grain, with fierce competition between Bulgarians and Vlachs. However due to the need to keep most of their forces on the Hungarian borders, the Vlachs had made no attempt to wrest the area by force, even during Bulgaria’s anarchy. An agreement is made, whereby the border is established at the St. George distributor, the southernmost channel in the delta. While the Vlachs may place tolls on Greek merchant vessels sailing up the Danube on their side of the border (which does not include St. George itself), they are to allow Roman warships to pass without hindrance, provided that at least two days’ warning is given (that clause is present so that in the event of a Bulgarian revolt, the Roman navy can harry the insurgents from a second front).

But as one Orthodox state disappears, another is born. As the Roman armies laboriously trudge through Bulgaria, Alexei I is in Constantinople negotiating with the Roman Emperors. Like the Targoviste agreement, a consensus is quickly made; it is only the details that are difficult to reconcile. For what Alexei I wants, he gets rather cheaply, a halving on custom duties imposed on Roman sugar, silk, and jewelry.

He arrives at Kiev on August 11. Three days later, with the approval of his subjects (which he had made sure to get before going to Constantinople), he is crowned Alexei I, Megas Rigas, Great King of the Rus. The new crown is a gift from Demetrios, made by the finest goldsmiths and jewelers in the Empire. The negotiations in Constantinople was for the approval of the title, which in a sense is an elevation from King to Emperor.

It is not quite the equal of Basileus and remains outside the hierarchy of Roman titles (Alexei wanted a Greek title for increased legitimacy-the main difficulty in the negotiations was the creation of an appropriate Greek title that did not imply any sort of Russian claim on the Empire). However in Roman political ideology, the Roman Emperor remains the head of the family of monarchs, but the Megas Rigas is second in the hierarchy. The Holy Roman Emperor is demoted to third place with a quip by Demetrios, remarking that ‘a true Great King is better than a false Emperor’. Despite his title, the new state that Alexei creates is soon known to its people and the world not as the Kingdom of the Rus, but by another name, Russia.

1438: The birth of the Russian Empire has an immediate effect on the Pomeranian War, as a terrified Poland begins peace talks with Saxony in the city of Prague, the King of Bohemia acting as a mediator. At this point, the war is not going well for Saxony. Due to Andrew III’s desire to consolidate his hold over Austria, now entirely under his control, the armies of Hungary have not been pressing hard against Bavaria, allowing the Holy Roman Emperor to concentrate the bulk of his strength against Saxony. So far the armies of Saxony have been able to hold the line, but that is all they have been able to do. Meanwhile Poland has overrun over two thirds of Pomerania.

Originally the goal had been to claim all of the stricken Duchy, securing Poland’s hold over much of the southern Baltic coast. But the need to get troops to the eastern frontier now, lest the Russian bear get hungry, means that they will settle for Gdansk, the Polish name for Danzig. Reluctantly, the Saxon Duke Hans Leopold accepts. While he gets back most of the territory he lost, the most valuable portion by far is now in the hands of Poland.

Hans Leopold gathers his northern armies, unleashing them not upon Bavaria but upon Denmark. Profiting by the continual distraction of their major enemies and growing more ambitious, the Danes are now the masters of a sizeable swath of north-central Germany. By this point they have conquered Lubeck, Mecklenburg (which had attempted to break its vassalage and failed in 1435), and Hamburg, forced the rulers of Bremen, Oldenburg, Luneburg, Hoya, and Hannover to kneel as vassals, and are currently probing the Altmark.

Faced with the Saxon troops from Pomerania, grim-faced veterans with strong arms and large zweihanders and heavy crossbows, the Danish forays are quickly driven out of Altmark with much slaughter. Saxon troops spill into Luneburg, Hans Leopold pouring troops from southern Saxony into the fray as news arrives that Andrew III is once again on the move, invading Bavaria itself with forty thousand men and seventy guns, heading straight for Munich itself.

In Luneburg, the Saxon troops are able to inflict three defeats on small Danish detachments, all of which were outnumbered at least two to one. But before the Saxons can press their advantage, alarming news arrives from the south; Andrew III has made peace. The great army he led into Bavaria was not an attempt to conquer the duchy, but a great show of force to make the Emperor Conrad II come to terms.

Andrew III’s terms are simple. The Duchy of Austria will be signed over to the Kings of Hungary, to rule with no ties of vassalage to Munich. In exchange, Andrew will abandon his revived claim to the title of Holy Roman Emperor, and more importantly will not use the thousands of cast iron cannonballs he has accumulated. With Andrew III’s well trained and disciplined host on the doorsteps of his capital, Conrad is forced to accept. Andrew returns to Vienna, proclaiming himself ‘by the Grace of God, King of Hungary and Duke of Austria and Transylvania.’

With the withdrawal of Hungary from the war, Saxony now stands alone. Its north German allies have been largely cowed or overrun by the Danes, while Bavaria’s German allies remain completely intact. Peace is quickly made with Denmark, with Saxony accepting all of the Danish conquests in Germany except for the Altmark (which was never captured, only occasionally raided).

The combined Saxon and Bavarian armies meet on the field of battle at Pausa on May 11. The Saxons field an army of fifteen thousand, the Bavarians twenty thousand. The Saxons manage to set up half a dozen culverins and open a brisk cannonade on the Bavarian right wing, causing some of the units to flee back in disarray. Believing that if he pushes hard, he can rout the rest of the enemy army, Hans orders a mass assault, heralded by waves of crossbows and followed by ranks of Saxon knights and halberdiers.

Han’s attack bites deep into the Bavarian lines, but then they run into an ambush of camouflaged culverins which rake the company at point blank range. At the same time, Conrad has managed to reform his crumbling wing, which takes the Saxon attack in the flank. A counterattack from the Bavarian cavalry completes the debacle. With a third of the army gone, the battered and demoralized Saxon troops flee back to Dresden as Conrad II gathers his forces to deliver the knock-out blow. Although he did win, he took twenty five hundred casualties of his own, over a tenth of his army. But if he can force Saxony-Brandenburg to kneel, truly kneel, as a vassal or better yet, conquer the dual duchy outright, Conrad II Wittelsbach will have restored the position of Holy Roman Emperor to a level of power it had not held since the days of the Hohenstaufens.

Conrad II is not the only one to notice that fact. Every German prince, down to the exiled Duke of Austria living with his cousins in Prague, is horrified by the prospect. As a result Conrad’s allies dither, being lax in provisioning and recruiting troops for Conrad’s invasion, much to his annoyance. Despite his best efforts to speed them along, including the push of sizeable amounts of coin, he is unable to stop the southern German princes from dragging their feet.

Meanwhile Hans Leopold is not idle. He has reformed his army with what troops he can, adding to them with mercenaries. Mainly they are Frisians, skilled light infantry driven out by the crushing Lotharingian response to the revolt last year. However a new force arrives in central Europe, for on June 20, three thousand Russian archontes disembark from their transports at the port of Wolgast. These special mercenaries are the finest soldiers in the new Saxon army. When they arrive on the front lines, they almost immediately smash apart a Bavarian column five thousand strong, riddling it with arrows and then sweeping it aside in a lance charge after their formations had been broken.

But Russia is not the only Orthodox state to which Hans Leopold turns in his hour of need. On the same day that the archontes arrive in Pomerania, a delegation representing most of the independent German princes arrives in Constantinople. There, in exchange for Constantinople forcing Bavaria to back down, they will recognize Demetrios Komnenos as the Holy Roman Emperor.

The offer is not made because of any sort of love or good will between the northern Germans and the Romans, for there is none. However the Germans have nowhere else to turn. Denmark, Poland, and Hungary are not trustworthy, and neither is Lotharingia. Hans Leopold will absolutely not tolerate a Lotharingian emperor, as the then-duchy of Burgundy extorted Frisia from Saxony in the 1410s (who had inherited it in the 1380s), when the German duchy was busy conquering Brandenburg while Andrew III invaded Austria for the first time.

The Plantaganet Empire (as the kingdom of England-France is often called) is an option, but King Edward VI is a personal friend of King Louis I of Lotharingia, which automatically earns him Hans Leopold’s hatred. Arles and the Iberian kingdoms are too far away or weak to force Bavaria to back down. With approaching Constantinople, the princes also hope that Conrad II’s touchiness over the Imperial title might prompt the Bavarian monarch to grant concessions in exchange for re-recognition of his title.

This option is made after Hans Leopold had already sued for peace. However Conrad, smarting after Austria’s exit from the Empire, is in no mood to be generous as Saxony’s resources now appear to be utterly spent. Conrad demands that Hans Leopold will step down as Duke of Saxony and Brandenburg, retiring to a prepared estate in Tyrol, signing over the duchies to Conrad himself. Hans’ response is simple: “I was born a prince; I will die a prince.” The war would go on. The other German princes who comprise the rest of the delegation join because they realize that a united Bavaria-Saxony-Brandenburg could take on the rest of the HRE combined (with the caveat that one excluded Lotharingia/Burgundy, but that could be easily done by Bavaria-Saxony forming an alliance with Arles, as Charles I of Arles has already started complaining about Lotharingian harassment of Rhone River traffic).

Meanwhile dreams of uniting the Roman Empire, of restoring the unity destroyed by Charlemagne, dance in the eyes of the Greeks. But cold reality soon puts a stop to that dream. The German princes here are willing to accept an emperor in Constantinople because he would be too far away to threaten them. But that distance means that the Romans cannot hurt the Bavarians. If they used the Adriatic to ferry an army, they would have to pass through Venetian territories. A march overland all the way to Bavaria would be slow, consume huge amounts of supplies, and be at the mercy of Hungary. While relations with Buda are good, Demetrios and Theodoros are not willing to risk an army on them. Thus the Germans are turned away empty-handed.

There is also the fact that the princes here represent a minority of the lords of the Holy Roman Empire, an admittedly wealthy and powerful minority, but still a minority. Maintaining real Imperial rule in Germany would be virtually impossible even if distance wasn’t a factor, for the Kings of Bohemia and the Dukes of Burgundy (as the Kings of Lotharingia are in the HRE-their royal territory pertains to their French territories) have not weighed into the contest, but would immediately oppose a Greek army dispatched to the region.

Even if the Romans had accepted, the tagmata never would have reached Germany in time. Conrad, run out of patience with the dilatory princes, launches his attack on Saxony with just the forces available to him from his Bavarian domains. Considering how badly his rival has been battered over the last few years, it should be enough, especially as he managed to enlarge his artillery train since the last attempt on Dresden and also supplement his army with Swiss mercenaries.

The Saxons, outnumbered almost two to one, make the final stand just a mile south of their capital. Alongside the Saxon core stands the Frisian mercenaries, the Russian archontes, and eight battle cohorts of the Bernese League. The latter are a new sight in central Germany. The one hundred men cohorts, built on a combined arms system of handgunners, crossbowmen, dismounted knights, and heavy burgher infantry, have only rarely left their Alpine homeland.

The Bavarians, trusting in their numerical advantage, launch a brisk attack spearheaded by the Swiss pikemen on the right wing. The archontes sally out from the Saxon lines, their composite bows pouring a hail of missiles that stagger the Swiss ranks, who are then smashed flat when the Bernese handguns roar out their curtain of flame and smoke. Less than a minute later, the dismounted Habsburg knights slam into the Swiss vanguard, followed two minutes by the archontes charging into the chopped-up Swiss rearguard. The pikemen are cut to pieces.

Meanwhile the other Bavarian attacks have been heavily harried by the Frisians, allowing the Saxons to hold, barely. But now the archontes begin pouring arrows into the Bavarian columns, staggering their ranks. Then the Bernese gunners once more roar out and the Habsburg knights and Russian cavalry sally out into the smoke, and together shatter the Bavarian army. Conrad II is wounded with a broken arm but flees back to Munich with his army. Most of his cavalry managed to escape; the fine plate armor of the knights stood up well to Russian arrows and even Bernese bullets, but his infantry has been annihilated as a fighting force and his artillery captured. Without the latter two, there is no way he can take Dresden and thus force Hans Leopold to kneel.

The other alternative is peace. Hans Leopold also wants peace, as his realm is virtually bankrupt from all his mercenaries and years of war. In the Treaty of Dresden, Conrad II is forced to recognize Saxony’s control of Pomerania (the parts it holds anyway), in exchange for Hans recognizing Conrad as the rightful Holy Roman Emperor. In agreements shortly afterwards, Conrad is forced to recognize Denmark’s and Poland’s conquests as well.

* * *

Ebenat, Ethiopia, November 14, 1439:

“Congratulations, negusa nagast, the last of the rebels has surrendered.”

“It’s about time; I thought they had run out of rats to eat a week ago. Come, sit down, sit down.” The young, brawny man who was the newest Emperor of Ethiopia gestured a bare arm at the rough wooden seat opposite the equally rough table. With his other he picked up a drab clay cup and set it down. “Have a drink.”

“Thank you, Yohannes,” Ioannes said, sitting and taking a sip. “I’ve finally gotten used to this.”

“Bah, you Greeks are too obsessed with sugar. A bitter drink is good for you; that it keeps you awake is a bonus. And I see you’ve finally realized to call me by my name, took you long enough.”

“It wouldn’t do to denigrate your position, especially when several of the nobles and Chewa commanders are up in arms. I don’t want my son-in-law to get killed. I mean, he is annoying, but I do love my daughter.”

“Ha! You say you love her, but you let her marry me.”

“I can’t help it if she has bad taste.” Yohannes snorted his drink. “Anyway, now that you’re secure on the throne, I can treat you with the respect you deserve.”

“You aren’t worried about damaging my image?”

Ioannes took another sip. “After this, what courtier would dare to whisper? And what I call you won’t stop the Somali raids on the Harer trade caravans or the Shilluk migration. So why not?”

“Such politics. You’ve come a long way since your days as a Thracian blacksmith.”

“I blame your father. He’s the one that brought me here. What, twenty five years ago?”

“Do you miss it?”


“Do you miss home?”

“Oh, by God, yes. Melke’s cooking is far better than…”

“I didn’t mean here, in Ethiopia. Do you miss it, Constantinople?”

“Constantinople, no. Way too many people. I grew up in the country. Three hundred thousand people crammed into one place just doesn’t seem natural. I sometimes miss Thrace itself, but…” He took another drink. “My wife, my children are here. For better or worse, my home is here. Why are you smiling?”

“I was hoping you would say something like that. I’ve been thinking that it’s time for me to expand my father’s work, to continue what he began.”

“What do you mean?”

“I need more Roman artisans. Lots more. And you’re going to get them for me. I just wanted to make sure you’d come back when you’re done. So you’d better pack, father. You’re going home."

* * *

1439: Osman II, despite poor health, is personally present at the fall of Hormuz. The pesky emirate had fought extremely well on both land and sea, preventing the Ottomans from ever being able to fully blockade the city. Due to that failure, the great port had managed to hold off an Ottoman siege for the last eighteen months, even though it was supported by fifteen Ottoman cannons, their first use of the weapons. Their technique is improving though and experiments have begun to create hand cannons.

More immediately promising though is the performance of the urban azabs. The program has since expanded, with every town in the Ottoman domain with a population over eight thousand having to field a certain quota of troops. Although not as well armored as their Persian opponents, being mostly clad in mail armor from the Roman Empire, they are far superior to the rural azabs. Still drilled by old janissaries, they are extremely proficient at pinning smaller but heavier Persian formations, allowing janissaries to make a killing blow on the flanks and rears. With rural azabs, the anvil often broke before the hammer could get into position.

Although only Mazandaran and the Persian Gulf coast have fallen into Ottoman hands, the sipahis and janissaries are also showing equipment improvements, both through trade with the Georgians and Venetians and the acquisition of Persian foundries and equipment. Most of the janissaries in the first few ranks are now equipped with a steel lamellar cuirass, although further back they remain clad in leather lamellar. As a result of these reforms, the Ottomans are performing better in the field, although due to the size of Persia and the martial skills of its inhabitants, progress is still slow.

In Constantinople, as a corollary to the recently begun military reforms, the Emperor Theodoros conducts a substantial restructuring of the tax districts. During the War of the Five Emperors, the various contenders had managed to gain the loyalty of their troops because they were able to pay them without Constantinople. They had been able to do that because every nine tax districts were completely bounded by one theme. With no territorial overlap between the economic and military districts, it was distressingly easy for the latter to gain complete control of the former.

Now the Empire is divided into ten prefectures, each of which is divided into ten provinces. These are deliberately designed so that no one prefecture is entirely within one theme. The tax gatherers, who still have the right to call up tagma soldiers to enforce tax payments if needed, report to the prefects. The prefects are given a handsome salary, but are forbidden to purchase any country land. Also they are required to keep their primary residence and family in Constantinople.

To the south Barsbay finally manages to break the deadlock in the Mameluke Civil War when he succeeds in capturing the port of Aqaba. More importantly though, he gains the allegiance of the Hedjaz. Not only does it give him substantial prestige as defender of the Holy Cities of Islam, but also the Hedjazi fleet. Although small it is more than a match for the primary Mameluke Red Sea fleet which has yet to recover from its defeat at Sajid Island. However the support of the Hedjaz does come at the price of certain promises to the Hedjazi imams, because of the Roman attack on Tripoli, they are not conditions Barsbay finds distasteful.

Over the past twenty years a movement has been growing amongst the Hedjazi imams, which received a significant boost when Turkmen chiefs fled south after the Harrowing of the North. Its main tenets are a stricter, more literal interpretation of the Koran and a much greater emphasis placed on the lesser jihad, the struggle against the infidel.

It is born out of a sense in Sunni Islam that the tide is going against them. In the west the Marinids have lost ground for the first time in a hundred years. To the north, the Blue Horde has been dismembered by the infidel, who even now is turning his gaze east across the Volga. To the east, the Empire of Vijayanagar continues to shine strongly, not only fighting Islam in India with distressing effectiveness, but also dispatching subsidies and fleets to Indonesia to bolster Hindu princes against the shoots of Islam in the Far East. There those efforts are joined by two expansionist Hindu kingdoms, Champa and Majapahit. It is highly possible that Islam will lose both India and Indonesia.

But most of the rhetoric is directed against one state, the Roman Empire. Not only did it expel Islam from Anatolia and Armenia, but it is also the closest threat, with the possible exception of Ethiopia, to the Holy Cities of Islam. There is also the worrying fact that its over a million Muslims seem perfectly content to be ruled by a Christian Empire. That is, of course, due to the extremely high degree of religious toleration for Muslims in the Empire, a wisely maintained relic from the days of Manuel II Laskaris. Except for a few high-ranking positions, the bureaucracy and army are open to Muslims. Soldiers participating on the hajj forfeit their pay because of the reviews they miss, but are not otherwise penalized.

Nevertheless, the realities of living in a Christian state still led to conversion. Now the Empire is 10% Muslim; in 1300 it was 35% Muslim. That makes the Romans a grave threat in the eyes of the Hedjazi imams. For if anyone could turn back Islam in its heartland, over which the Empire looms ominously, it would be them.

However for the moment Barsbay’s attention is focused on Egypt, not Anatolia. With the use of the Hedjazi fleet, he is able to ferry troops to Suakin, outflanking the Mameluke forces barring the Sinai. After a forced march, he is hammering at the gates of Cairo. After a three week siege the city capitulates, and with it all of Egypt. The armies in the Sinai surrender shortly afterward, although Barsbay takes the precaution of having their generals poisoned shortly afterwards. The Mameluke Sultanate is once again whole.

The speed of Egypt’s fall prevented the Roman government from coming to the aid of the Cairo government as had been planned. A convoy from Rhodes bearing supplies for the Mameluke armies arrived at Alexandria to find that Barsbay’s forces were already in control of the port. For the sake of appearances, the convoy commander made a show of trying to sell the supplies to the Damascenes/Mamelukes. After haggling over the price, the convoy left, not fooling Barsbay for a second.

In Constantinople, Demetrios can no longer hide his rapidly failing health. Despite his best efforts, Giorgios Doukas can do nothing to halt the Emperor’s decline. Just a few days after his sixtieth birthday, he breathes his last. Like his co-emperor Manuel Doukas, the last words on his lips are “Manzikert, victory.” He is buried at the Monastery of Aghios Theodoros Megas just outside Constantinople. Shortly afterwards, he is accorded the title Megas by Patriarch Adem (Adam), the first to be so honored since Theodoros II. He had restored the empire’s unity and power, guarded her against the Lord of Asia, and sent Roman armies to lands and seas untouched even by Justinian himself. In all the lands of Orthodoxy, now fully recovered from the disastrous 13th century, he is mourned and remembered. He had also founded the Second Komnenid Dynasty; like the first, it would see the greatest and vilest of men wear the purple, take the Empire to heights of glory and the edge of ruin, embodying all the best and worst aspects of man.
A Timurid (and Others) Interlude

Part One: A Dream of China

The battle at a small village in the wilds of central Asia, a poor, desolate place called Yining, in 1426, was utterly decisive. In a running, five-day battle Shah Rukh destroyed the best troops of the Shun army. The years of long skirmishes, of periodic raids, the torturously slow push eastward, came to an end at that village. The gates of China were open, and Shah Rukh, grandson of Timur, Lord of Asia, entered the one land his great ancestor had failed to overcome (Timur had destroyed a Delhian army on the banks of the Indus in 1395 when it tried to contest his conquest of Baluchistan).


Shah Rukh and his men at the beginning of the invasion of China.​

Initially progress was fast, the Timurid soldiers pouring into the defunct Kingdom of Urumqi, an independent Chinese state that had broken away from the Yuan, leading a free existence until it was conquered by Shun in the 1410s. It was that conquest which had stirred Timur into contemplating an attack on Shun, before he had been distracted by the fall of Armenia and the Manzikert campaign.

In Urumqi there was still some of the old elite, dreaming of their old power. In exchange for assured positions in the new order, many of them defected to Shah Rukh, allowing him to take several strong places despite his weakness in artillery and infantry. By the end of 1428, he had control of all of Urumqi, giving him access to a pool of infantry outfitted with equipment from the Wei troops stationed there. The Wei troops had not been from Urumqi and so were not trustworthy, being turned into forced labor battalions and arrow fodder to be used when attacking cities. Shah Rukh also gained the services of many Urumqi engineers, including a few with the knowledge of cannon casting.

However as his forces move into Shun proper, the Timurid advance slows down considerably. Shah Rukh’s connections with Timur (whose atrocities are known, sometimes even exaggerated, in China) and Genghis Khan, while extremely useful amongst the people of the steppe, have the exact opposite effect here. Despite the best efforts of the Urumqi engineers, sieges are bloody, brutal affairs even by the usual standard of medieval sieges. Particularly obstinate are the cities of Jiayugan, which allows Shah Rukh to outflank the Great Wall, and Yunwu (OTL modern Lanzhou). Those cities, which put up exceptional resistance, each one holding at for over eight months each, were razed to the ground, their inhabitants either executed or sold into slavery. The glut in the market causes the price of slaves in the Delhi Sultanate to fall to a third of its 1426 price by 1432.

However with the fall of Yunwu in December 1431, the political situation in China is transformed. Shah Rukh now has access to the Yellow River, the backbone of Shun China. If he takes it, north China is his. And then in March of the next year, the armies of Wu move. Pouring across the Yangtze river in the great troop transports escorted by rows of black warships armed with dozens of rocket launchers, the peasant levies stationed in the south (what is left of the good troops are in the north) are easily swept aside.

In southern Henan, eight great battles are fought over the course of 1432 between the Shun and Wu, both sides fighting mainly with mediocre levies. That is all Shun has, while most of Wu’s elite troops are annihilated in a great ambush in the first battle by the son of the current Shun Emperor, Zhu Di. With poor troops on both sides, incapable of performing sophisticated tactics, the later battles turn into slugging matches decided by whoever has the most bodies. When the Prince of Shun is killed in the eighth battle, at least two hundred thousand Chinese (Shun and Wu) soldiers have been killed, along with at least one and a half million peasants.

Meanwhile Shah Rukh continues to work his way down the Yellow River, city after city falling because of lack of garrisons. The Shun concentration on Wu is because they are not entirely without allies. North of the Yellow River, a vast host is gathering, lured by Shun bullion, made up of contingents from the northern Yuan (the Mongols), the neo-Jurchen kingdoms (the tribes had reformed their old state after the collapse of Yuan China), Joseon Korea, and the Ashikaga shogunate (an attempt by the shogun to export samurai violence to the continent).

In November 1432, during the siege of Beijing, the Shun capital, the allied army finally arrives, outnumbering Shah Rukh’s forces by almost three to one. In the face of such odds, Shah Rukh retreats, harassing the enemy with his light cavalry. While the Mongols and Jurchen are able to beat back the probes, both the Koreans and Japanese take moderate casualties. Finally on November 25, Shah Rukh turns and offers battle at Puyang.

The Timurid cavalry launch a mass sally preceded by shrieking, stinking waves of rockets, flattening the Jurchens. When the Japanese move to support, the Koreans, who had been bribed by Shah Rukh beforehand, instead attack the samurai, who are swiftly crushed between their new assailants and the Timurids. Largely unengaged, the Mongols retire from the field.

Returning to Beijing with the Koreans in tow, Shah Rukh resumes the siege. For three months it continues, both sides hammering each other as the Wu steadily creep north over devastated Henan. Finally on February 19, Zhu Di, the Last Emperor of Shun, sallies with his cavalry. The charge, though spectacular to view, is swiftly crushed, as both the riders and horses are both malnourished. But Zhu Di perishes with his blade in the belly of a Timurid soldier.

With the death of the Shun Emperor Shah Rukh is able to march into Beijing unopposed. Although he extorts a massive lump sum out of the city, he strictly prohibits any looting or sacking; it would not do to wreck his new capital. On February 27, he proclaims himself the Hongwu Emperor, the first of the Tieh (iron) dynasty. Shortly afterwards, he receives several Wu delegates who bring congratulations, a huge mountain of bullion and silk, and a demand that he leave, although the Wu emperor is willing to grant Shah Rukh the territory of Urumqi. Shah Rukh laughs, asks “Why would I abandon my empire?” and has the delegates executed.

Immediately he marches south, leaving five thousand cavalry in Beijing under the command of his second son Jahangir to solidify Timurid/Tieh control over the north. Once again Henan is the site of great battles, as he systematically annihilates the Wu levies. The Shun troops in the area, eager for victory and revenge, attach himself to the cause. With their support, particularly in sieges, by December 1433 Shah Rukh has command of all of Shun China. In Beijing, Jahangir takes a wise step towards earning the loyalty of the Chinese in November when he promises religious toleration for all the peoples of the new Empire. As for himself, he remains a Muslim but almost immediately begins working to synchronize Confucianism and Islam, equating the Mandate of Heaven with Allah’s will and the Confucianism concept of ren with the Muslim emphasis on charity. These efforts are immediately approved by Shah Rukh when he hears of them.

It is not until 1436 that the invasion of Wu begins, as it is necessary to construct a fleet to carry the Tieh army across the Yangtze. In the meantime, Shah Rukh is busy cowing the members of the alliance. In 1434, he destroys the power of the Northern Yuan in a whirlwind campaign, incorporating their domains into his massive empire. In 1435 he does the same to the Jurchens. And while Shah Rukh begins the invasion of Wu, to bring back the Mandate of Heaven, Jahangir invades Korea, which is not to be spared by the defection of its army at Puyang. However due to the well-fortified nature of Korea’s supplies and the limited resources available, Jahangir is not able to complete the conquest of the country until 1439.

Japan itself is spared because of the sea and the need to concentrate Shun’s fleet on the Yangtze. Despite the death of most of the most troublesome samurai, Puyang is a major blow to the Ashikaga Shogunate. The remaining samurai blame the shogun for the debacle, and so as Shah Rukh and Jahangir move into Wu and Korea, in Japan the shogunate is on its death spiral into fragmentation and collapse.

In May 1436, four massive sea battles, each one involving more than five hundred ships and fifty thousand men, erupt on the Yangtze. The Wu have the better of it because of superior sailors. But they serve Shah Rukh’s purpose, as the distracted Wu fleet is unable to prevent twenty thousand Tieh cavalry from sneaking across the river unnoticed. On the night of June 1, the Wu fleet is burned at anchor by a surprise attack. The rest of the Tieh army, Timurid, Urumqi, and Shun, pour across the Yangtze.

For the Wu, it is the last straw. Their armies had been destroyed in Henan, and with the loss of the fleet and the Yangtze they have lost their last defense. Only the sheer bulk of Wu slows Shah Rukh down, but due to the small garrisons and demoralized population, even that bulk shrinks fast. In August 1438, the Wu capital of Guangzhou falls. China is once again whole. Two weeks later Shah Rukh drops the title ‘heir of Timur the Great’. He has fulfilled his greatest dream, to move out of the shadow of his grandfather, for he now rules over an Empire even greater than Timur’s. That empire is soon enlarged even more, as emissaries from Swati Kashmir, Tibet, and the Kingdom of Champa to the south of Wu all offer to become vassals and pay tribute in exchange for protection, an offer Shah Rukh is happy to accept.

Meanwhile many of the Wu take to the sea, fleeing in the great ships with which they had traded as far as Malacca. Initially they stop in Tondo where they are welcomed. However when the Tieh fleet seizes Taiwan in March 1439, the Wu are expelled in the name of maintaining good relations with Tieh. The Wu are forced to flee again, some making their way to Champa. The Champa do accept some, but only a few so as not to offend their Tieh overlords. Onward the Wu fly, to the Majapahit Empire, the greatest power in southeast Asia now, with a massive fleet capable of challenging even Tieh and vassal states all over Indonesia. However the Majapahits are old rivals of the Wu, who had not taken kindly to Wu traders in their seas earlier. They will not take in the Wu, but they also bar the Wu from fleeing west, not willing to risk that they will encamp with their Malay or Ayutthayan rivals.

So onward the Wu fly, this time to the south. Eventually, on the edge of the world, they spot a vast land stretching across the horizon. They make camp, establishing a new settlement which they christen Nan (south). There they build homes and farms, intermarrying with the locals and amongst each other. And as children are born, they teach them, instilling in them a dream of a great land to the north, the land of their ancestors, a land to which they will one day return. And so as the Southern Wu, as they call themselves, build, they give their children a dream, a dream of China.

Part Two: The Dance of Destruction

When Pir Mohammed began his invasion of India, Islam had been slowly and steadily retreating from the subcontinent for the past seventy years. The Pashtun migration which began in the 1320s had led to the creation of the Swati Kingdom of Kashmir, but its effects further south had been far less pleasant. Lured south by the prospects of fighting in the Delhian army in its campaigns against rebellious Marathas backed by a mysterious Hindu state in the far south, most Pashtuns were fierce followers of ghazi Islam (the Swati were a conspicuous exception to the rule). In that respect they followed the small band of refugee Turks who, after falling out with Osman I, had fled from Mesopotamia to India and later invited the first wave of Pashtun immigrants.

That trait would not serve Delhi well. The recently established Tughlaq dynasty had like its predecessors maintained a policy of religious toleration for Hindus, who made up the vast majority of the state’s people. However as the Pashtuns grew in power, the policy began to change. By the 1370s, Hindu temples were regularly razed to the ground and mosques built in their place, while Hindus themselves steadily lost most of their legal privileges and access to certain occupations, often being forced to convert to and follow Islam at the point of the sword.

Delhi paid dearly and almost immediately for this stupidity. In the years 1374-1380, the Vijayangara state overran all of India south of the Narmada river (Madurai had already been annihilated when Delhi’s armies were occupied crushing a Hindu revolt in the Rann of Kutch), skillfully exploiting Maratha resentment against Delhi. At the same time waves of Rajputs fleeing persecution moved south, providing Vijayanagar with a formidable corps of medium cavalry. Joined by war elephants and Maratha infantry, the Vijayanagara army was a formidable force.

In 1377, a mass revolt broke out on the lower Ganges centered around the province of Bihar. It succeeded because by this point the Pashtuns were acting more as a Praetorian Guard than actual soldiers. In the name of pay increases, they deposed four sultans in three years, allowing the Bihari revolt to crystallize into a new state and form an alliance with Vijayanagar. The purpose was to drive Islam out of India completely and forever.

By 1431 when the invasion began, that process was well under way. Vijayanagara had not expanded beyond the Vindhya mountains although its raids north were frequent and devastating. Bihar had overrun Bengal and Assam, as far as Mrauk U. In India, its western outpost was the city of Lucknow. However ironically Delhi’s weakness now was its greatest strength. Both of its Hindu rivals ruled over a vast array of diverse peoples, who previously had been united by the Muslim threat, but now were growing restless. In that year, Bihar was occupied with a revolt in Assam and Burma, while Vijayanagar was dealing with a mass Maratha uprising as well as the grumbling port cities along the western coast.

Pir Mohammed had a significant advantage over the Delhi Sultans. His army, though only twenty five thousand, was well equipped, disciplined, and experienced. Like his great-grandfather Timur, he easily crushed the first Delhian army sent against him by driving it into the Indus. Many of the Delhian soldiers threw themselves into the river and risk drowning rather than stand against the charge of Pir Mohammed’s heavy Khorasani cavalry.

As Pir Mohammed steadily grew closer, town after town capitulating before him, the Pashtuns in Delhi grew more and more alarmed. Their usual solution to any problem, deposing the current sultan, did not help. However when Pir Mohammed was thirty miles from Delhi he sent a messenger to the Pashtuns, promising that if they joined his cause, they would retain all their current rights and privileges, including their current pay. They immediately defect.

With the aid of the Pashtuns, the Khorasani Sultan is able to take Delhi without contest, although it is again the Pashtuns who depose the Tughlaq Sultan. Once Pir Mohammed is secure in his capital, he invites all of the Pashtun guard to a great victory celebration outside of the city, where he provides huge amounts of alcohol. During the night the Khorasani fall on the inebriated Pashtuns and massacre them. With the guard gone and the capital in his possession, Pir Mohammed is able to have the entire Delhi Sultanate under his control by the beginning of 1432. In March he proclaims himself ‘Sultan of Khorasan, India, and Persia, Heir of Timur the Great, Lord of Asia’.

For the rest of 1432 however he is forced to travel back to Khorasan, as the Emirs of Yazd and Tabas had invaded his realm. Rather than following their titular sovereign, the Jalayirid Khan, in the fight against the Ottomans, the two emirs had hoped to expand eastward instead. Outside the walls of his capital of Ghayen, Pir Mohammed meets the Persians in battle, annihilating them at dawn by having his heavy cavalry charge with the sun directly behind them. The frightened, squinting, Persian troops are swept aside.

Thus it is not until 1433 that Pir Mohammed is able to launch his invasion of Hindu India. Determined to knock out the more powerful threat first, he focuses his attack on Vijayanagara. The Bihari armies, built on the teeming masses of the lower Ganges, are known more for their bulk than their quality. The advance into the great Hindu empire is slow, as the Narmada river and Vindhya mountains form a perfect glacis.

Also the year spent in Khorasan allowed the Vijayanagara Emperor time to solidify his position. With the threat from Delhi suddenly revived, the old reason for the Empire’s existence has returned. As Pir Mohammed slowly pushes his way south through Maharashtra, harassed by Maratha light infantry, the armies of Hinduism gather. It is a veritable host of peoples, Marathas, Rajputs, Tamils, Telugus, Kannadigas, and Keralans, including all the Dravidian peoples of southern India. It is joined by contingents from the Kingdom of Bihar, Bihari of course, but also Orissans, Bengalis, Awadhis, and Jharkhand tribesmen. It is the assembled might of Hindu India in all its teeming, diverse glory. As the army departs Vijayanagara, the Empire’s capital (which is as big as Constantinople), the soldiers pass through ranks of Brahmins, dancing the tandava nritya, Shiva’s dance, the dance of destruction.

The army, though diverse, is actually small by the standards of the populous Indian states, particularly Bihar, numbering about forty five thousand, but it is comprised of their very best troops. If the army is destroyed, the Hindu states will be forced to rely on levies, which would not last long against Pir Mohammed’s veteran troops.

The rugged terrain of Maharashtra does not make supplying and deploying a larger force feasible, one of the reasons why Pir Mohammed launched his attack there. Since he is not enamored of the loyalty and ability of the Delhian troops, he is relying on his Khorasani soldiers, giving him an army of only thirty four thousand soldiers. He is outnumbered, but he is used to that, and his lighter army is able to move faster even with the sporadic attacks of the Marathas. The Baluchi tribesmen under his command, fighting in terrain similar to their homeland, make for a formidable screen.

The armies of Islam and Hinduism meet at the fortress of Devagiri (sometimes known as Deogiri). It is October 9. Overconfident in their numerical superiority, the Hindus immediately attack with their best units, the Rajput cavalry. They perform rather well, driving through the ranks of Khorasani screeners, but are bought up short by the armored rows of the heavy infantry, far better equipped than any Indian foot soldiers. In an attempt to break through, the Rajputs are badly bloodied and driven back when Pir Mohammed sallies with his own cavalry.

Consternation ripples through the Hindu ranks at seeing their best soldiers so badly and quickly trounced. Smelling the fear, Pir Mohammed immediately attacks, launching a mass cavalry charge, closely followed by the heavy infantry. If he can smash apart the demoralized Indian infantry lines, he can effectively shatter the power of Vijayanagar and Bihar in a single afternoon.

Only one thing stands in the way. The trumpeting, bellowing ranks of Vijayanagara armored war elephants, fifty strong, anchoring the Hindu lines while flights of arrows streak out from the platforms on top. The horses will not charge. The Khorasani mounts are not used to the sight and smell of these strange, monstrous beasts, and will not charge, despite the cursing and whipping from their enraged masters. The cavalry charge collapses into a confused morass, which is only compounded when the following heavy infantry become entangled in the mix.


The Vijayanagara reserves​

The Hindus sally with everything they have. The reformed Rajputs lead the way, followed by the remainder of the Indian cavalry, who are used and trained to work with elephants. Then the entire Indian infantry move as well, the elephants following in the rear as mobile archery platforms to keep the Khorasani light troops at bay. Struck from three sides simultaneously, the entangled Muslim troops, for all their armor, are doomed and cut to pieces.

Pir Mohammed is among them, leading a few battalions of infantry forward that manage to hack their way through the trap, even killing six elephants in the process. But then an arrow strikes Pir Mohammed down on the edge of escaping; he is dead before he hits the ground. The troops he had been leading panic and scatter, allowing the Hindu reserves to plug the gap.

The Khorasani army is utterly destroyed, although the initial Rajput charge and the slugging match at the end mean that Hindu casualties are also very high. In Delhi, Pir Mohammed’s twin sons, Mirza and Nasir, realize that with the threat of Shah Rukh to the north and the Hindu states to the south, their father’s realm is too big to handle. Thus they split it by casting lots, Mirza taking Khorasan and Nasir Delhi. Neither has much difficulty in securing control of their two realms. In Khorasan Mirza is the legitimate heir, while Nasir faces no internal political opposition since the destruction of the Pashtun guard.

Nasir is given an additional reprieve, for upon the death of his father and the collapse of the Muslim threat, the internal disturbances of his Hindu neighbors have returned with full force, preventing either from capitalizing on the victory at Devagiri. Bihar is additionally pressed as it shares a border with Tieh, admittedly a very rugged one, but no state can be comfortable with such a monster as a neighbor. For the Bihari the situation is only compounded by efforts from Shah Rukh to draw Lanna into his network of vassals.

For Nasir the situation is even more serious. To the west, the Ottoman-Persian war continues, if more quietly after the fall of Hormuz due to Osman II’s deteriorating health. However to the north Shah Rukh continues to prosper, working to draw the White Horde and Perm into his massive empire, unseen since the days of the Great Khans. But Nasir knows and fears that his great-uncle will turn his gaze south. And so he prepares, rebuilding his shattered armies, forging closer ties with the Ottomans, preparing for the day when the Lord of Asia returns.


Asia 1440

1) Timurid Empire/Tieh China
2) Ottoman Empire
3) Jalayirid Khanate
4) Great Khorasan
5) Swati Kingdom of Kashmir (Tieh vassal)
6) Tibet (Tieh vassal)
7) Delhi Sultanate
8) Kingdom of Bihar
9) Vijayanagara Empire
10) Kingdom of Kotte
11) Kingdom of Lanna
12) Kingdom of Ayutthaya
13) Minor Malay states (main power is Sultanate of Malacca): predominantly Muslim, converted by Muslim Bengali refugees fleeing the Bihari. Their religion is the main justification for attacks on them by Vijayanagara, Majapahit, and Champa.
14) Majapahit Empire
15) Khmer Kingdom
16) Kingdom of Champa (Tieh vassal)
17) Southern Wu

Between the Steppe and China: The Kingdom of Urumqi

They called themselves the Western Han. Both Shun and Wu called them barbarians. They were both right. When the Yuan dynasty collapsed in the mid 1300s, it sparked a mass wave of revolts and war across China which only settled down in the early 1380s with the establishment of the Shun dynasty in the north and the Wu dynasty in the south. During that time, many refugees ended up fleeing westward (the way south to Champa was barred in the 1370s when the Wu began their campaign to destroy the revived Dali kingdom).

There on the western frontier, the refugees set up a new home, forming alliances and intermarrying the scattered Uyghur tribes. Through skillful manipulation of these ties, along with the knowledge of gunpowder weapons, the Western Han were gradually able to form a new Chinese kingdom on the outskirts of central Asia. Urumqi, which meant ‘beautiful pasture’ in the local tongue, became the capital, growing from the yearly gathering of tribal chieftains that the Western Han had instituted to foster cooperation and loyalty amongst the tribes. A major boost to Chinese control over the tribes occurred in the early 1380s when Timur smashed the tribes of Moghulistan to the west, causing the Uyghurs to rally to the Western Han banner out of fear. The diplomatic skills of the Chinese with Timur, negotiating a small tribute and turning his gaze westward, only solidified their position.

In its political organization, the Kingdom of Urumqi actually resembled the Ottoman Empire. There was a centralized core of the state, concentrated on the capital and cities, surrounded by a cloud of tribal organizations linked to the core through a variety of marriage and vassal ties. The outer cloud was mostly Uyghur, although gradual intermarriage with the Chinese core resulted in the growing creation of a mixed racial society, something which came to a temporary halt during the Shun occupation. Beijing outlawed the marriage of Han and Uyghur during that time in an attempt to keep apart the two pillars of Urumqi power.

Due to the preponderance of the Uyghurs, the Urumqi state’s main faith was actually Sufi Islam, followed even by the majority of the Chinese population by the time of Shah Rukh’s invasion. That was a large reason why the Urumqi people almost unanimously supported Shah Rukh when he invaded, especially after he dropped the prohibition on Han-Uyghur marriages. During the Timurid invasion of China, the Urumqi played a vital role as infantry and engineers, providing Shah Rukh the tools he needed to take the great cities of China.

However after the fall of China, Urumqi now presented a problem. Its people expected special privileges because of their Muslim faith and their loyal support. However the vast majority of Tieh China, the old peoples of Shun and Wu, looked down on the Urumqi as bastardized barbarians. Any hint of favoring them over the “pure Chinese” was unlikely to go over very well. Yet Urumqi was of vital importance to the Timurid/Tieh Empire, for it bridged the two components of that state. If the Timurid/Tieh Empire was to survive in whole, Urumqi loyalty was vital. Balancing the needs of Urumqi and China would be the greatest and most enduring problem of the Timurid/Tieh Emperors. Their failure to find a permanent solution would be fatal.

And on the other side of the world...

The Eastern Settlement, Norwegian Greenland, July 1439:

“Damn Skraelings,” Eric muttered, shifting in his wooden chair as the two guards dragged the thing from the church, which was currently doubling as a law court. It had been caught pilfering chickens from one of the homesteads two days earlier; it would be put down outside.

He rubbed the top of his nose. “What’s next?” he asked, looking at his assistant Aage who was standing off in the corner.

He glanced down at the sheet of paper, gently setting down the page on the Skraeling on top of the pile; the blank side would be reused. Space on the four ship convoy dispatched annually from Norway was limited. “We have another request from Alfred to-”

Eric exploded. “Will that goddamn Swede ever shut up?!” He jumped up and down, the fifteen or so individuals in the front of the church staring at him. Aage merely cocked an eyebrow. “No cows! No cows! No fucking cows! Has he been outside? How many times do I have to say it before he’ll get it?!” He sat back down. “My cousin has made it clear. He’s not going to subsidize idiots.”

“So how should I respond?”

“Oh, the usual. Remind him that Norway keeps us alive because of the walrus tusk trade and because we’re a good waypoint for the cod fishing. Neither of which requires cows. And that his continued insistence on trying to raise cows here is just plain stupid. Even a Dane would have figured out by now that it’s a waste of time. Oh, and add this. If he asks one more time about his stupid cows or lack thereof, my response will involve an axe and his face.”

Aage scribbled down the note as the church door creaked open, a squat, scarred middle-aged man pounding his way towards Eric. He stopped short, flipping a coin which the judge. “Look what the latest Icelandic fisherman brought in.”

Eric examined the gold coin. That in itself was rare; Greenland did use some money, mostly copper and some silver, but was mostly barter. “What are these markings, Amund?”

“They’re Greek,” Aage said. “It’s a hyperpyron.”

“Shiny. I wish I worked for this monarch.”


“Because then I get paid in this, rather than fish. That’s the currency in these parts, salted cod, the money of my glorious cousin, the King of Norway, Iceland, and a piece of crap.” He sneered.

“When you say piece of crap, are you referring to here or Scotland?”

“That’s a good question. This place sucks, but we only have a couple of Scottish fisherman. Scotland’s full of them. Why my cousin decided to unify the Norwegian and Scottish crowns I’ll never know. All he gets are a bunch of Scots and annoyed Englanders.”

“Meh, who cares?” Amund muttered. “Besides if the Scots pitch in, maybe the yearly convoy will get bigger?”

“That would be nice,” Eric replied, turning to look at Aage. “If that happens and Alfred asks about cows, I’ll still kill him. Or maybe exile him to those rocks in the west where the fishermen have their cleaning shacks.”

“Anyway, have you heard the news?” Amund asked. Both Eric and Aage shook their heads no. “Olaf Tordsson is dead.”

“Really. Did he die in his sleep?”

“Nope. The Swedes killed him. They didn’t like paying taxes to support his fancy company, so they rose up. They say it took three shots from a culverin the Danes gave them to kill him.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Aage said, grinning. “If the tales are true, it’d take at least seven.” Eric rolled his eyes.

Amund smiled too. “Anyway supposedly his son Gustav has set himself up in Abo and proclaimed himself King of Finland rather than bow to the new king the Swedes elected. Rumor has it he may even convert to Orthodoxy to keep the Russians off him.”

“Interesting,” Aage muttered, glancing down at the next sheet. “May I ask you a question, Eric?”


“Who do you hate more, Basques or Swedes?”

“That’s hard. Basques are ugly, annoying, little rats who keep trying to steal our fish. But the Swedes are just so, oh, Swedish. And they never shut up about cows. I hate Swedes more.”

“That’s good. Because they caught another Basque.”

“Again! That’s the fourth this month! All right, that’s it. Get me my axe…”

The Demetrian Military Reforms of the Late 1430s and Early 1440s

The Roman army’s performance in the late 1430s had not been auspicious. In the Crimea, an entire Roman tagma had come close to being annihilated in the field and had only survived through the fortuitous arrival of allied reinforcements. In Bulgaria, a weak and disorganized opponent whose might consisted mainly of ad-hoc bands of raiders had managed to inflict several minor defeats on isolated detachments.

Those defeats had largely been caused by the stranding of numerous heavy cannons in a sea of mud. Bogged down and isolated from each other, the gun crews and laborers trying to move the guns had been highly vulnerable to light Bulgarian raiders. Because of the poor showing in these two conflicts, the Emperors Demetrios I and Theodoros IV enacted a series of broad reforms, designed to improve Roman performance in the field.

The military reforms are typically called the Demetrian reforms after the senior Roman emperor. However by late 1438, when the German delegation arrived in Constantinople, Demetrios’ health, never fully recovered from his Crimean ventures, was extremely poor. While officially he was still senior, Theodoros IV was the true ruler of the Roman Empire and likely deserves much of the credit for these reforms.

The first reform was a revision of the equipment ordnances of 1304. These had been set down at a time when plate armor was still extremely rare and when the Empire, having just completed the re-conquest of Anatolia, lacked the money for substantial outfitting of steel lamellar armor. Hence in those ordnances, chainmail armor was extremely common. By 1439, that was decidedly less so. Over the past century, soldiers had gradually improved their protection, outfitting themselves with steel lamellar and plate armor, supplementing it with leather lamellar for the extremities. The improved capabilities of soldiers equipped in such manner as opposed to mail-clad soldiers had already become apparent to some observers, including Manuel Doukas, as early as the battle of Cappadocian Caesarea.

The new equipment ordnance of 1439 essentially accepted the changes and completed them. Mail armor was entirely dropped from the list of required material. Skutatoi, heavy koursores, and skythikoi were all to be protected by a steel lamellar cuirass for the torso with leather lamellar for the limbs; these were supplemented by the kavadion and the epilorikon. Light koursores dropped their light mail and instead wore complete leather lamellar, improving their role as light cavalry. Also all soldiers who were to fight in melee on a regular basis who had not already done so were required to purchase a mace or hammer in addition to their swords, a clause added because of the growing amount of heavy armor used by the Empire’s foes.

The increase in equipment requirements was matched by an increase in equipment bonuses. That the empire could afford to do this was in large part due to the growth of the printing industry. Not only were a new book and press tax added to the roster, but the new industry created a slew of businesses upon which could be levied property taxes. The main influx came from the latter. The first two were kept rather low (the book tax was a one-time charge levied on the printer which was 5% of the book’s production cost, the press tax was a yearly payment of a semissis, a gold coin worth a half of a hyperpyra-the cost to set up a press was typically around 25 hyperpyra) to avoid charges that the government was trying to tax private presses out of business to leave the field clear for government presses. While those produced manuscripts intended for government employees, the military treatises were considered good reading for a cultured gentlemen while the cultural guides were highly valued by merchants for the information they gave on foreign beliefs and customs.

Soldiers were required to sell back their mail armor to the warehouses at a price set at around one half of what the soldiers had paid for the armor. Despite the fact that they were being gouged, there was remarkably little grumbling. Since well-maintained lamellar armor lasted far more than the two years between bonuses, these reforms essentially gave most soldiers a decent raise. Complainers were usually silenced by their kontoubernion-mates who did not want to jeopardize their good fortune with malcontent. Ironically, the government then turned around and sold the mail at a respectable profit to the Ottomans, meaning that the urban azabs of Mesopotamia were mostly protected by Roman mail.

The next reform has gotten the most attention from historians, due to its immense influence on the future of Roman gunpowder warfare. Essentially there was a mass overhaul of the artillery, taking into accounts lessons learned from the English and Castilians as well as the experiences of the Bulgarian war. The focus was on increased mobility and ease of operations. Ironically, the great bombards devised by Thomas Laskaris were only useful inside the Empire, where its elaborate road network made the transport of the monsters such as the bombard Giorgios possible. In less developed countries, such weapons were barely mobile, a weakness that had been heavily exploited by Bulgarian irregulars.

Also the Gunpowder Crusade and the Ninety Years War showed that larger numbers of medium and light guns were better than a few great guns. Although they fired smaller shot, it was more than compensated by the greater ease in positioning more weapons and their higher rate of fire. The latter allowed an attacker to sweep a section of wall with continuous fire, hampering repair efforts.

As a result, the great guns were, in a sense, retired from field duty, being set up as part of the defenses of five new forts. The first was on the northern shore of Lake Van, on the Ottoman border, and was called the Dragon Fort. The second was to protect the seaward approaches to the thriving port of Bari, called the Fort of St. John the Merciful, the saint who had been the father of Theodoros Megas. The fort of St. Theodoros Megas was set up on the opposite side of the Adriatic at Dyrrachium. The last two forts, set up on opposite sides of the Bosporus near Constantinople to enforce tolls on ships exiting or entering the Black Sea, were designed by a Turkish architect and thus became know as Rumeli Hisari (on the European side) and Anadolu Hisari (on the Asian side).


Rumeli Hisari today-Rumelia was the term used by Turkish speakers to refer to the Empire's European possessions, distinct from Anatolia.​

The main weapon of the Roman artillery became the bronze cannon firing cast iron shot weighing fifty pounds. These were also given wheeled carriages rather than the early sleds to further increase their mobility, an innovation applied to all the other Roman artillery weapons. There were also seventy and hundred-pounder cannons used, along with culverins firing twenty five and fifteen pound shot. The smallest Roman cannon, called the mikropur (little fire), fired a ball weighing six pounds.

Originally artillery had been assigned on the tagma level, attached to a specific tagma but not smaller units. Now most of the culverins and mikropurs were actually attached to the various tourmai. Thus on average, every tourma during a campaign would be supported by two mikropurs and one heavy and one light culverin. The heavier guns remained assigned either to the tagma artillery train or to the Imperial arsenals.

The navy also participated in the artillery reform. All Roman oared warships were outfitted with light culverins, although the size of even these small weapons and the obstructions caused by the rowers meant that even the largest dromon mounted only six cannons total, all located in the bow or stern.

It was the purxiphoi that saw the most changes. All of the great guns that had made up most of their armament were removed, replaced by ten of the bronze fifty pounders, located on the top of the main deck. There had been some suggestions on sticking them into the ship and adding wooden doors that could open, allowing the weapons to shoot out. It was rejected as there were concerns about jeopardizing the integrity of the ship and its subsequent ability to take battle damage. On the two great towers were added an additional eight light culverins and six mikro purs.

With the ships’ weight of fire decreased dramatically, the purxiphoi were now able to shoot more rapidly and the removal of the great guns which tended to make the ships top-heavy improved their sea-handling capabilities. In light of what Theodoros had in mind for the new fleet, four more purxiphoi were laid down, two in Constantinople and two in Trebizond. When they were completed they would bring the total of purxiphoi up to a total of twenty two. In comparison the Portuguese fielded thirty by this time (they were at the forefront of the Portuguese explorations around west Africa, at the time currently surveying the Canary Isles), the Aragonese twelve, Genoa and Venice both eight, the Hospitalers three, England-France and Arles two, and Lotharingia and Denmark one.

Another innovation was in the realm of officer training, which was seen as highly needed because the War of the Five Emperors, the Ain Sijni campaign, and the lead-up to the battle of Voronezh showed serious flaws in that area. Previously officers had been trained at the tagma and tourma levels at the reviews, supplemented by the military manuals that they were required to read. While this did produce officers skilled in battlefield tactics, it left the strategy and management side weak.

The response was the creation in 1440 of the first military academy, the Skoleio tou Polemou (the School of War). Any would-be officers had to pass its intensive three year course, which covered strategy, tactics, unit management, logistics, a form of proto-psychology designed to teach officers how to deal with disagreements amongst soldiers, diplomacy skills, military history, and the culture and traditions of the Empire’s enemies. Its ostensible goal was to “turn every officer into a dragon”. Of course such a goal was impossible, but it did succeed in creating a more proficient and versatile officer for the Roman army. The first school opened at Constantinople, but soon more sprang up in Thessalonica, Smyrna, Trebizond, and Antioch.

To get into the Skoleio, an applicant had to display ‘honesty, loyalty, and wisdom’, the same qualities demanded of those who received government scholarships at the universities. However the old officer corps was kept in place, allowing natural attrition to take its toll and was steadily replaced by the new system of graduates.

A new, separate school, the School of Artillery, was created for the artillery and engineers, which trained both officers and enlisted personnel. Being literate was required for entrance. Besides the specialized training for soldiers in their fields, the artillery officers received much the same training as cadets at the Skoleio tou Polemou. Institutions were opened up at Constantinople, Thessalonica, and Antioch.

There was also a significant reworking of military ranks. One major flaw in the Laskarid system was that there was no officer between a dekarchos (commander of 10 or 5 in a heavy cavalry unit) and a droungarios (commander of 100 or 50 in a heavy cavalry unit). The innovation was the creation of an officer called an eikosarchos, who was in command of two kontoubernions. He became in the new system the lowest ranking officer, replacing the dekarchos who remained as the highest military rank for the regular soldiery.

The eikosarchos commanded a new unit called the brazos (rock), as they were to be the rocks on which the army would rest as a whole. It was made up of twenty one men, the eikosarchos and two kontoubernions. Each kontoubernion had ten men, made up of one dekarchos (the equivalent of a sergeant), a pentarchos who commanded a section of four men, and a tetrachos who commanded a section of three.

The heavy cavalry formations kept the same ranks. There a brazos was made up of eleven men, the eikosarchos and the two cavalry kontoubernions of five men. In those there was just the dekarchos and the four men under their command. As a result, droungoi no longer had a numerical strength of 100 but 105 men (heavy cavalry droungoi grew from 50 to 55) not including the droungarios, being made up of five brazoi.

Graduates from the Skoleio entered the army as eikosarchoi, and as far as possible the new officers were attached to brazoi with experienced dekarchoi. The purpose of these reforms was to make the army more flexible in regard to small-unit tactics, as well as to instill greater loyalty in the officer corps, which would eventually grow from promotions of the eikosarchoi pool. As for training the brazoi, just as the dekarchoi had to make sure their kontoubernions met certain training parameters at the review, the eikosarchoi had to do the same with their brazoi.

Another result of this reform was that the increased need of soldiers to drill between reviews, as individuals, as part of a kontoubernion, and as part of a brazos, meant that functionally the tagma soldier was virtually a full-time soldier. Because of the need to train continuously to maintain their pay and equipment bonuses and so their units would look good and be called up for active duty, which gave another bonus and the opportunity for plunder, they did very little farming. Their family members and hired hands became the ones working the farm or business while the soldier drilled.

Perhaps the most important part of the overhaul of the officer corps was the removal of land grants, turning all officers into full-time professional soldiers. While the already existing officers kept their current pay structures, Skoleio graduates were not given land grants but were paid entirely in cash. This was done so as to further secure the loyalty of the officer corps to Constantinople. While tourmarches and strategoi would be wealthy enough to potentially purchase their own estates, junior officers would be much more loathe to join in a rebellion if they had no other form of sustenance. The new officers were stationed in the same vicinity as the men they commanded (who were still paid in a combination of land and cash) so they could facilitate their continued drilling.

The reforms also saw the creation of new troop formations. The first of these, which technically predated the reforms, were the Thulioi, the one thousand English longbowmen maintained as a professional standing force. Protected in leather lamellar, they were armed with their signature longbow, a hammer, a sword, and a steel cap, making them capable of fighting in melee.

New professional formations also were created during the reform period itself, mainly as an effort to decrease the power of the tagmata strategoi in the Empire. All of the contenders during the War of the Five Emperors besides Maria had started out as strategoi. They had remained quiet for many years after the accession of Demetrios and Manuel, and the army had remained loyal during Ioannes’ and Bedros’ short lived rebellion, but that insurrection served as a warning of what was possible.

The new formations were designed to increase the power of the full-time units. Paid entirely in cash, their loyalty to their imperial paymaster was solid. The equipment of the Athanatoi, already improved for the Council of Kings in Targoviste, was permanently upgraded. The kataphraktoi and their horses were armored in full plate, the skythikoi riders with full plate and their mounts with steel lamellar barding, and the heavy koursores mounts with lamellar barding for the face and neck. This was all in addition to the plate cuirasses added for Targoviste, which became part of the equipment ordnances for the Athanatoi.

A new formation called the Scholai, after the tagma of old, was established in 1440 and stationed in Aleppo, watching the Mameluke border. It was made up of two tourmai, composed like the regular tagma tourmai, and two hundred new troops called mauroi, after the Greek word for black, the color of the substance used to power their new weapons. These men carried handguns, modeled on the Bernese type and firing a ball weighing ten ounces. These were short-range, inaccurate weapons which took at least four minutes to reload, but they were highly effective against armor and threw up an immense cloud of smoke and noise that was highly disorienting. Their handguns were equipped with an iron butt so they could be used as a club. The mauroi also wore a steel lamellar cuirass, a steel cap, and leather lamellar and were equipped with a mace and sword. Their tactics were to fire a volley at point blank range, strap their handguns to their back, and charge into melee with their maces.

A total of five mauroi banda were created at that time, each with two hundred men. One was attached to the Scholai. The second was stationed at Tripoli, the third in Bari, the fourth in Theodosiopolis, and the fifth in Antioch. Becoming used to the smoke and noise became a regular part of the reviews, so that regular troops would be able to effectively operate in such an environment along with the mauroi. Another formation, two thousand strong, was also created, which has attracted the most attention amongst the students of history. They were called the Varangoi, or more famously, the Varangian Guard.

The new Varangians came mainly from Russia, specifically the former Principality of Pronsk. Many of the minor boyars had not been happy with the new arrangement in Russia, but with the archontes and the Novogorodian infantry and artillery behind him, Megas Rigas Alexei I was untouchable to the likes of them. Thus many of them had traveled south, offering their skills in warfare to the Roman Emperors, who organized them in the new Guard. Two hundred and fifty of them served as heavy cavalry, armored in steel lamellar for the horse and rider, fighting with lance and axe. Another two hundred and fifty were armored horse archers, fighting much like skythikoi, but armed with heavy axes as well as bows. The remaining fifteen hundred are known as the Varangian mauroi. They were equipped and fight like regular mauroi, but used the heavy axe in melee like their mounted comrades.


The old Varangian Guard, equipped with its signature two-handed great axes, had been disbanded after the fall of Constantinople in 1204. The new Varangian Guard was not equipped the same as the old, but the new Varangians would soon gain a reputation for deadliness on the battlefield and loyalty to the Emperor that would make their forebears proud.​

The reforms did have the effect of increasing the size of the Roman standing army from eight thousand (the Athanatoi and three archontates) to thirteen thousand. The resources to pay for this came from a number of sources. One of them was the trade concessions that have been exacted from the Ottoman Empire, Russia, Genoa, Aragon-Sicily, and Castile over the past several years, which had done much to increase the export of Roman goods and the subsequent gain in toll revenue. Another was the growth of the new printing industry as a source of taxes as well as the sales from government presses.

A third was the increase of trade with Russia with the establishment of a direct land route, which brought in much currency from both import duties placed on furs, amber, and grain and export duties placed on jewelry, silk, and sugar. The Russians seem to have a particular fondness for the latter. The final source was increased trade links with Arles and Al-Andalus, which had helped to keep relations warm with the first and substantially improve relations with the second. In 1441, at the tail end of the imposition of the reforms, the Hammer actually proclaimed that ‘Cordoba and Constantinople, the twin beacons of the Mediterranean that outshine everything in between, are the best of friends. Long may it remain so.’

The final element of the reform was rather small; it was a book. Written by Demetrios Komnenos, it was called The Good General and published in 1440, becoming an instant bestseller. It covered both battle tactics and campaign strategies, with an emphasis on good logistics, morale, intelligence, and rapid movements. Its section on cavalry warfare was actually written by Dragos cel Mare before he was killed.

However it was the last section that drew the most attention, both at the time and amongst historians. It was a scenario, about how a Catholic crusade might be sent against the Empire and what was the best way to defend against it. It emphasized the maintenance of a powerful fleet to defend against approaches by sea, as well as keeping up good relations with Hungary (to bar the Balkans against Crusader attack) and with the Marinids (as they could provide bases in the western Mediterranean that might prove useful and could potentially threaten Italy, which would likely be the center of such a conflict).

The Demetrian reforms were an expensive process, and although they were begun over just three years, it took at least fifteen for them to fully implemented. However with the improvements in equipment, gunpowder weapons, and officer training, coupled with the fine training and discipline from Laskarid times which had never wavered, they gave the Roman Empire a truly deadly army. The Empire would have need of it in the years to come.
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The Lords of Asia

Part 6.1


"Samarkand must be ours or the vultures. Until either one or the other happens, the Turkish people will never be safe."-Sultan Osman II​

1440: The gloom hanging over the Imperial court after the death of Demetrios is dissipated when the Empress Helena at last gives birth to female twins, who are named Zoe and Irene. Including the twins, by this point the Empress has had three daughters, but no less than eight miscarriages. This is especially unusual since the physically-active Empress models her diet after Giorgios Doukas, and thus is extremely healthy and looks about five years younger than her age of thirty one.

The first act of Theodoros IV Laskaris Komnenos as sole Emperor is receiving a delegation from the new Emperor of Ethiopia, Yohannes I. The eldest son of Yekuno (known posthumously as the Great), his initial years on the throne beginning in 1437 had been troubled ones. He had to put down a revolt by his nobles and some of the feudal Chewa regiments, keen on exercising their role in electing the monarch. The Axumos, supported by the crossbow militia and the royal regiments, had shown them the error of their ways. Besides securing Yohannes on the throne, it helped to establish a solid dynastic tradition for the Ethiopian throne.

With increased tribute from the Sennar states and from caravan trade tolls from merchants keen to avoid the Yemeni monopoly of the Bab el-Mandeb, Yohannes’ finances are in a good position. With that money, he has been able to substantially improve the Ethiopian cavalry, steadily hammering the Shilluk back into Central Africa. The support of the Roman artisans has continued to be of great importance to Yohannes, and his first wife is the daughter of the lead artisan and an Ethiopian noblewoman.

The delegation is in Constantinople to show its gratitude and also to request more artisans to further aid Ethiopia’s quest to modernize. While they bring gifts of gold and ivory, more importantly they bring a large stockpile of brown beans that when ground into a powder and mixed with hot water prove to be a stimulating beverage. The resulting beverage is called kaffos, a Greek corruption of the beans’ province of origin in Ethiopia known as Kaffa.

It immediately becomes a huge success amongst the Imperial court when one of the new tax prefects adds Cypriot sugar to the mix. Unfortunately due to lack of knowledge about the plant itself, the Roman attempts to cultivate it all fail. When it becomes known that supplies are out, purportedly Alexios Palaeologos, victor of Ain Sijni, submitted a battle plan on the spot with the objective of seizing control of the Nile River valley, so that more could be transported from Ethiopia.


The Nightmare of the Mamelukes​

As this is happening, tensions are increasing between Mamelukes and Romans all across the eastern Mediterranean. Several attacks on pilgrims in the Holy Land occur and are unpunished by the local authorities, who also do nothing to stop bands of young men from crossing the Roman border to burn and pillage. As a result, Theodoros authorizes the Syrian tagma and banda to respond in kind as they see fit. On both sides of the border, streams of displaced refugees fleeing their burning homesteads becomes a common sight. Meanwhile the price of Sudanese slaves increases almost fifty percent because of ‘supply difficulties’. Sales of Egyptian grain are also similarly affected, although for some reason sales to Venetians do not shrink.

Theodoros, keen to improve relations with a state so well situated to harry the Mamelukes, grants the Ethiopian request. A total of thirty four artisans, included three gunsmiths, accompany the Ethiopians as they return home. However in Alexandria, the party is arrested by Mameluke soldiers and at the personal order of Barsbay, every member of the contingent, both Ethiopian and Roman, are executed. When a protest arrives from Ethiopia, with a veiled threat of diverting the Nile, Barsbay’s response is utterly ruthless, tempered by the influence of the hard-line Hedjazi imams.

A month later, on August 9, over fifteen thousand Coptic Christians across the Mameluke domains, mostly artisans, priests, and scribes, are rounded up and executed. The response from the Mamelukes’ Muslim neighbors is universally one of horror. The imams of Mesopotamia issue a fatwa condemning the massacre in no uncertain terms as contrary to the proper treatment of people of the book, hampering conversion efforts as it would encourage the Copts to rightly look on the Muslims as vile. The imams of the Roman Empire join in the condemnation, calling it ‘savagery worthy of a Crusader’.

However not all Muslims agree with the Roman imams (who are deliberately very closely tied to the Roman state, particularly in the administration of justice). In August the banda capture a group of thirty men from two villages attempting to cross the border to join the Mameluke army. Poor Arabs, with no prospects in life beyond scratching out an existence in a marginal region of Syria, the lure of loot from the coming jihad is as much of an incentive, if not more, than the call to the faithful itself. When the news is heard, a Christian mob razes the two offending villages to the ground, killing their inhabitants.

From Al-Andalus, from the hand of t