Part 12.31536: Theodoros does not actually leave Constantinople until the spring, when he departs with his menagerie. He retires to his sprawling animal park near Aleppo, breeding rhinoceroses and elephants in captivity at a rate unmatched until the twentieth century. Contrary to some laymen’s belief, this does not help the Imperial exchequer. All of Theodoros’ animal-related endeavors he funded himself, largely from the revenues from land grants bequeathed by Andreas Niketas, Demetrios, and Herakleios.
Empire of Blood and Gold
Empire of Blood and Gold
On the other side of Asia, a peasant revolt sparked by poor harvests is put down with terrifying speed by provincial Wei troops and the Eleventh Banner Army. The Tieh dynasty is only a hundred years old, and is clearly nowhere near its expiration date.
The devastation of Constantinople completely ruins the Imperial treasury. Rebuilding efforts force further austerities, and the eastern fortress program again receives further cuts. The Herakleian Walls are undamaged, but deaths to work details necessarily slows construction. However not all programs are a loss. One that is cut is the program known in the present as the ‘rocket trooper’ program. It was an attempt to use rockets to fly soldiers over walls into fortresses, but was abandoned given a complete inability to steer or brake the projectiles, which were tested with pigs.
The fire also destroys Andreas Angelos’ plan for reviving the Imperial Navy. Ships were lost, but also naval supplies and skilled workmen from the half-wrecked Arsenal. Reluctantly he reports that until 1545 at the earliest, due to the lack of skilled artisans, sailors, and marines, he cannot guarantee that the Imperial Fleet can defend trans-Cretan (waters outside the Aegean, Marmara, or Black Seas) territories against a hostile fleet.
It soon becomes apparent that some fanatical Muslims are responsible for starting the fire. In the Fourth Nullification Act, all Muslims are expelled from Constantinople with all their properties confiscated, and all their mosques shut down. They are also barred from Trebizond, Smyrna, Antioch, and Alexandria (a clause supported by many Alexandrians, who approve the removal of economic competition). Also all Imperial Muslims save those of recognized frontier tribes are barred from owning horses, more than two hundred cattle, five hundred sheep and/or goats, or three hundred donkeys, camels and/or mules.
All surplus has to be sold to the government at set prices significantly below market value, and the government then turns around and sells them at a significant profit (some to the Spanish Alliance as food-stocks for the Oran expedition). The funds go toward restoring Constantinople. Some Muslims in protest slaughter their animals instead, and have all their goods confiscated as punishment.
The figures for allowed Muslim livestock are double that of the original draft. Their raise is owed to Andronikos of Chalkis, who has been growing increasingly close to the Empress. That relationship brings up the issue of Alexeia’s lack of a husband or heir, which has been a concern ever since her accession, but a topic everyone has quickly learned not to broach unsolicited with the Empress.
The most frequently mentioned suitors are Demetrios Komnenos, the sixteen-year-old son of Andreas of Egypt, Isaakios Angelos, Giorgios Laskaris, and Michael Doukas, the first cousin and closest living male relative to Stefanos Doukas. Alexeia does not want any of them as husband. There is also the fact that each represent a powerful faction in the Empire, and she is not inclined to strengthen any of them.
So she chooses a nobody, and on October 15, she marries Andronikos of Chalkis, who bears the very fresh titles of Komes (Count) and Tribounos (Tribune), both of which are purely honorary titles. It is a brilliant, lavish, and expensive ceremony, with the popular historical view that she is compensating for the low-born nature of her consort. Still the spectacle is not enough for some to not notice that the Empress seems a little fuller in the belly come the ceremony.
Despite the new titles, Andronikos is merely titled ‘the Imperial Consort’. In processions he does not sit beside his wife, but is behind all Komnenoi, the Megas Domestikos, Megas Doux, and any Patriarchs, but prior to all other military, administrative, and clerical officials. He also has no claim to any imperial estates or property. Even so, the marriage is ill-viewed by many of Constantinople’s dynatoi, who forget (or ignore) their mostly-plebeian origins in their disapproval.
Eleven days later, Prince Bayezid in Hormuz signs a secret accord with two Jewish envoys from Milan. In it, he pledges that once he is sultan, a secret offensive alliance will be in effect between the Ottoman Empire and Milan.
On December 20, Sultan Suleiman “the Magnificent”, Conqueror of Persia, Builder of a Thousand Mosques, the Lawgiver, breathes his last in the Topkapi Palace of Baghdad.
1537: The death of his father could not come at a more propitious moment for Bayezid. He is at Hormuz, and thanks to the galleys docked along the quays of the third city of the Ottoman Empire, his travel time to Baghdad is half that of Konstantinos and Osman Komnenos, both of whom are in the provincial capital of Mazandaran, Sari. It is a city of 12,000 souls, known for its fine gardens and orchards, a famous madrasa, and several tombs of Sufi saints.
Sari has well recovered from its destruction at the hands of Timur, but the main architect of its revival, Konstantinos, is in poor shape. Two weeks before the death of his best friend and Sultan, he collapsed during a troop review. Although he is on the mend, he is still weak and bed-ridden, clearly in no position to command armies.
That would not be such a big deal, if Osman wasn’t quarantined at the Komnenid Caspian seaside villa with the Black Death. According to the physicians it is unlikely he will live. With Konstantinos’ growing age, many of his allies and subordinates have with Konstantinos’ approval been looking more and more to Osman for leadership.
Short, with a tendency to chubbiness and a broken nose from a skirmish with Cossack sea raiders when he was twenty, Osman whilst healthy is not much to look at. An indifferent archer and swordsman, he is however a skilled rider with an eye for artillery, as demonstrated at Tarain. He is a devout Sunni Muslim, but with a strong inclination towards Sufism, of which he is a great patron.
He is also, despite his name, thoroughly Persian. Persian is his first tongue, and by far his favorite, in which he has written several pieces of (bad) poetry. He can also speak and write Turkish, but his spoken Greek is atrociously bad and he is illiterate in that language. His wife is also Persian, from Khuzestan, and his two daughters have Persian names. Still despite his Persian-ness Osman is fiercely committed to his family name ‘Komnenos’, and is quite proud of being the great-grandson of a Kaisar-i-Rum and having Andreas Niketas as a great uncle. That said, he has no interest in fighting for his ‘rights’ in Rhomania, which is a land he has never even seen.
But his purple blood serves him little in the spring. With his hold on life tenuous, his supporters abandon him to support Bayezid. With little fuss, Bayezid is proclaimed Sultan of E-raq and E-ran. His first act is to try and cut the Komnenoi down to size in their current weakness, distributing offices, bribes, and marriages to wean away supporters.
He also relies heavily on his new connections amongst the tribes of the eastern territories. With the corps of janissaries and sipahis behind him, plus the Mesopotamian and Hormuz urban azabs and a vast host of tribal cavalry, Sultan Bayezid is clearly more than a match for the Komnenid forces of Persian armored lancers and Mazandari urban azabs.
Bayezid’s tactics are a clear success, and by the time both Konstantinos and Osman make full recoveries, it is too late. The Sultan does not attempt to destroy them however. Firstly, he prefers to humiliate them instead, and also the forces they can still muster, although not a match for his troops, still are strong enough to command respect. Thus Bayezid contents himself with their public submission in Baghdad, where he formally invests them as joint governors of Mazandaran and only Mazandaran.
But one of his first official acts is to send a gift to Constantinople, the remains of Basil Palaiologos/Komnenos’ family, who were executed on Bayezid’s order. Per the Ottoman envoy’s request (Bayezid’s orders), Basil was present when they were delivered to the White Palace. It took three guards to tear the old man away from the envoy, who had his nose, three fingers, and a rib broken.
Bayezid, per his agreement, formalizes the Baghdad-Milan alliance, and begins making preparations. The first priority is to withdraw troops from the east. By significant concessions to tribal autonomy, Bayezid is able to withdraw substantial garrisons from the region, for instance only maintaining forces in Ghazni and Kabul in the northeast regions. He is also able, through outlays of gold and marriage alliances with chieftains, to draw thousands of tribal cavalry to his banners.
The lands along the Indus cannot be so lightly fortified though, but even these provinces do not require too heavy of a hand. Their immediate neighbors to the east are petty micro-states left over from the collapse of the Delhi Sultanate. Beyond them lie the far more formidable powers of Bihar and Vijayanagar, but neither are capable of projecting serious power beyond the Doab and the Narmada river respectively. Bayezid judges six thousand men and eighteen galleys enough to defend the region, given that Kashmir’s reigning monarch is eighty two and near death.
He is completely unaware that a new player has arrived in the region, as four Portuguese vessels sail into Kozhikode harbor. Some of them meet with Deva Raya II in great Vijayanagar, now the second-largest city in the world, resoundingly impressed by the vast metropolis and its seven walls. The audience goes well, as the Emperor would like a counter to the Romans and Ethiopians, and the Portuguese are allowed to establish a quarter in Kozhikode with their own church, bakery, and well.
As forces are gathered, Bayezid also begins extending feelers into Rhomania. He has already been contacted by Muslim dissidents from within the Empire, including some in the pay of the Abbasid Caliph. But the Sultan is not satisfied with the level of Muslim dismay at Constantinople, and so seeks to increase it in the most decisive manner, by triggering a Roman crackdown on its Muslim population.
The first few months of Alexeia’s marriage are a quiet time. For the first time since the days of Demetrios Megas, the ‘base’ taxes of the Empire, the land, head, and property taxes are raised (Theodoros IV raised income, but by inventing new taxes, streamlining tax collection, and developing industry and trade) by 10%. Although it affects all Imperial subjects, it vexes the Muslims as it is another tax hike.
One method proposed at the time to raise more income is to institute tax brackets, whereby those with a higher level of income are taxed at a higher rate. When Alexeia broaches the suggestion with the School of Law at the University of Constantinople, the professors resoundingly denounce the idea. It is considered contrary to the principle that all men are equal under the law. The idea is dropped.
One idea that is not dropped thanks to Andronikos is the rescinding of the Nikephorean decree that non-Orthodox religious structures cannot be repaired. Whilst the construction of new ones is still outlawed, already existing ones can be refurbished, redecorated, and enlarged, provided their height does not exceed that of the tallest church. Providing a boost to the construction industry, it applies to Catholics, Armenians, Copts, Jews, and Muslims, although the height restrictions of the Third Nullification Act still apply to mosques.
Also at the same time the rights of the Jews are confirmed. They are allowed to remain in ghettos, as the Jews request, since they view the segregation as a good defense against conversion efforts, in which they are allowed the full exercise of their religion. Jews may partake in any trade or craft they desire, are not required to wear any distinguishing clothing or markings, and are to be subject to no extra taxes beyond that of Orthodox followers save the synagogue tax. At the same time, Jews are offered for the first time the option of spreading out the tax for an entire tax period, rather than having to pay the whole lump sum every five years.
An offer to similarly delineate the rights of the Armenians (in this context, Armenian is a religious, NOT an ethnic label) is rejected, as it is rightly believed that it would end up decreasing their privileges. Armenians suffer no de facto persecution, and are even allowed to build new churches. The only real restriction is a glass ceiling preventing them from rising above mid-level bureaucratic or military ranks.
Even so, many get past the stricture by being Orthodox in public and Armenian in private. Strategos Mikayel Apkarian, commander of the Optimatic tagma, put it this way. “The Strategos is Orthodox. Mikayel is Armenian.” This practice is well-known but ignored by Orthodox officials, and the result is that the Armenian race (now in an ethnic sense), though it makes up only about 8% of the Empire’s population, fills almost 40% of the Empire’s secular high offices. The Empire is clearly a good place to be an Armenian, a fact they will not forget.
Andronikos of Chalkis meanwhile creates the musical piece that becomes the theme music for the Vigla, the Watch, or more commonly known as the Imperial Guard. Named ‘the Imperial March’, it has gone through some renditions, but the modern version used today (not always in the original context) remains little changed from the original.
Unfortunately that is his only major creation. When spring comes, smallpox accompanies it. The epidemic ‘only’ kills twenty four thousand, but one of them is Andronikos who dies on the morning April 14. Alexeia changes into mourning garb, and is barely dressed before tragedy strikes again. In the afternoon, she miscarries, losing her and Andronikos’ son.
It is too much. She locks herself away in her apartments, and the only one she sees is Fyodor of Yaitsk. After two weeks she emerges, but with Andronikos gone there is no one to counter Fyodor’s influence over the Empress. Andreas Angelos had been on a naval training exercise when a storm dismasted his vessel, breaking his leg in four places. Whilst all this is going on, he is laid up in Attaleia, where he along with his son Isaakios both contract smallpox.
The current situation is regarded as absolutely intolerable by Alexeia’s court. There has been growing discontent over the growing harshness of the Nullification Acts. No one had expected things to have gone this far, and many are worried that continued repression will drive the Muslims into Ottoman arms. Even Constantinople Patriarch Isidore II does not like the level of soft power Fyodor has, as he considers the Russian monk an illiterate boor and while he agrees with the aim of ‘purifying’ the Empire, he thinks the current method ham-fisted at best.
On May 9, the Megas Domestikos Konstantinos Gabras and Patriarch Isidore II present Alexeia with a proposal on how to deal with the Roman Muslims. In it, they suggest abolishing the Second and Third Acts, whereby Muslims were outlawed from money-lending to Christians and from having mosques more than half the height of churches, as pointlessly antagonistic. The First Act is to be rewritten, with the Muslim tax hikes halved; the Fourth, regulating Muslim ownership of livestock, is left intact.
Fyodor stoutly contests the proposal, and is currently drafting a Fifth Nullification Act. But one advantage Konstantinos and Isidore have is that before his death they had enlisted Andronikos’ help. They have a preliminary draft with the musician’s comments on it, which they present to the Empress (although not before Konstantinos remarks that Andronikos seemed most adept in economics for a musician).
One part of the proposal does go through without trouble. In August Crown Prince Timur arrives in Samarkand from Urumqi, where he had heavily defeated the Tieh Third Banner Army. His tactics hinged on cavalry ‘fire teams’ consisting of supporting horse archers and black horses, armed with firearms made by the foundries of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Merv. There he finds several newly arrived Roman technicians in Timurid pay, who are teaching the gunsmiths how to manufacture kyzikoi. Timur immediately takes to the weapon, outfitting his heavy shock cavalry with them.
For several weeks though the rest of the proposal is fiercely debated, a time during which Ioannes Komnenos, youngest son of Theodoros, arrives in the Queen of Cities. His father remains in Aleppo. On June 1, an assassin in the pay of Bayezid guns down Fyodor just outside the White Palace compound, shouting “Allahu ackbar!”
Bayezid gets exactly what he wants. On June 9, the Fifth Nullification Act is passed. Under it, by pain of death, the Muslim faith is hereby outlawed in the Roman Empire.