Not best, not a lot of time, thank you all, will revise later
Part XXXVII: Return to the Sangarios (1516-1517)
When Nikaia’s call for aid arrived in Trapezous, it arrived at what was probably the most opportune moment given the previous years’ turmoil. Ratetas had set about trying to reorganize the chaotic and undisciplined remnants of the army into a true fighting force, making surprisingly good progress in a mere two months. The primary losses had been amongst the officer corps, and while they would take time to replace in terms of quality, in terms of quantity it wasn’t especially difficult to just promote NCOs and junior officers up the ranks. The bandons, thank God, had remained mostly intact and could still be called upon if need-be, while the standing army had been significantly diminished but were still a capable force. The eleutheroi had been reduced to less than two hundred by the purges, Sabbides’ revolt and Ypsilantis’ coup, but they could be used as a core to rebuild around. Already, Trapezuntine ships were stalking the coasts of Circassia, waiting to pounce upon any slaver they caught unescorted. Speaking of ships, the Trapezuntine navy was in great condition, as Ratetas had managed to keep them firmly latched to the treasury’s teat, and any postponed repairs or equipment changes were rushed through once he was officially in power.
Moreover, Ratetas was also eager to join their western brothers in their struggle for independence. He was a deeply pious man and had been infuriated by the reports of the atrocities against the faithful that came streaming out of Bithynia after Kolpazar’s fall, and had gone so far as to dispatch ships to evacuate refugees from Pontoherakleia in 1515. His personal desire for vengeance was not the only motivating factor, however, as there was a great deal of political and strategic benefit to be gained from intervention. By leading a successful campaign against the infidels--and the hated Ottomans, at that--he would legitimize himself as regent, making it far more difficult for any rivals to unseat him, as well as make himself enormously popular. Annexing such lands as were held by the rebels, excuse me, Nikaians, would also benefit Trapezous by at the very least creating a buffer zone and at the very best allowing them to establish complete control of the Anatolian littoral. He wasn’t deluded, of course, and he knew that the best that he could realistically hope for was all of Paphlagonia with Prousias and Pontoherakleia thrown in, but still, it was a tantalizing prospect. As such, he wrote to Lefkos and Panagiokhristophorites and promised that he would arrive in July to aid them if they could just hold out for a few more months.
In the interim, he set about raising an army. He was able to muster some 10,000 soldiers from the regular army while still leaving enough behind to secure the capital and the Empire proper, and then raised sixty bandons (15,000 men) from the lands surrounding the capital, promising them vast rewards taken from those Turkish bastards when they drove them away from Christian hearths and homes. This first force was just barely able to fit aboard the Trapezuntine armada (and a few requisitioned grain merchantmen), and so it would be the force which Ratetas would lead against Bithynia himself. He was a sailor, not a soldier, though, so the actual soldiers aboard would be commanded by a minor general named Khristophoros Raptis. However, it would not be the sole army, as he also raised forty more bandons (10,000 men) and put them under the command of his cousin, Sabbas Tarkhaneiotes. Tarkhaneiotes was a somewhat experienced commander, having commanded forces on the southern frontier and thus being used to the raid-and-counter-raid pattern of conflict with Turkmen bands. Tarkhaneiotes was to stay behind in Trapezous, to keep the Karamanids or Qutlughids from getting any ideas. Of course, securing supplies for such an armada would take time, and so it was not until late June that the expeditionary force was truly assembled. After a week of awkward maneuvering, camps in the middle of the city, and disorganized loading, the armada put out from Trapezous on 6 July 1516. There were 15,000 soldiers, nearly 20,000 sailors, and several thousand horses loaded aboard more than fifty transports and escorted by that and more warships, one of the largest forces raised in all of Trapezuntine history.
After departing the capital, the grand fleet hugged the Pontic coast all the way to Sinope, where they weighed anchor and made some last-minute resupplies in addition to taking on two more bandons and a pair of galleys to join their number. Whether either of these galleys was the Çandarid flagship which Ratetas had captured nearly fifty years previous is unknown, but the regent and admiral almost certainly thought of that incident before they departed once again on 19 July. After weighing anchor, the ships continued along the Pontic coast to Abana, the easternmost town in the Empire. A single salvo was fired that afternoon, officially marking the beginning of the Trapezuntine intervention. They pressed further onwards in the same formation, passing Amisos (OTL Amasra) on 23 July and landing five bandons to capture the city. The defenders fled without firing a shot and three of them were left behind to garrison the port.
Four days later, they arrived at Pontoherakleia. The city had been under siege for the better half of the last year by a motley force of klephts and armatoloi, not enough to actually take the city but enough to make leaving the city or receiving supplies overland a nightmare for the garrison. As the vanguard arrived, its commodore, Ioannes Psarimarkos, sent a message to the garrison commander demanding that they surrender outright and immediately. This was, as expected, ignored by the city’s commander, who no doubt believed that some of the rebels had managed to hijack/liberate a few slave galleys and were now playing pirates. We can only imagine how the commander felt as he watched the rest of the Trapezuntine fleet pull around the headland north of the city. He hastily tried to surrender, but Ratetas apologetically informed him that allowing a garrison who had refused to surrender to go free would be a bad precedent. Six galleries closed to within cannonshot of the harbor and opened up, sending several hundred pounds of stone and lead into the walls of the citadel at subsonic speeds. Within half an hour the eastern face of the castle had collapsed, and the Turks were allowed to surrender. Five bandons were landed to secure the city, alongside the local klephts and the armatoloi. Ratetas then split his forces, sending twenty galleys to advance before them and sweep the coast of any Ottoman ships while the rest of the armada pressed on along the coast.
On 30 July, the fleet made landfall at its final destination, the mouth of the Sangarios River. (Note: the modern coastline around the mouth of the Sakarya was created after extensive dredging by the Turkish government during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Prior to this, much of the coastal strip was taken up a mangrove swamp, and the river was constantly silting up its mouth, which was much wider than OTL. At this time, the mouth of the Sangarios would have been 5km inland from the modern coast, near the OTL village of Tuzla. The river mouth would have been a sizable harbor, albeit a fairly shallow one outside of the main channel.) The Trapezuntines weighed anchor in the narrow river mouth and quickly captured the small nearby village of Kontolimani, which was turned into a bustling harbor. Over the next few days, the entire host was put ashore there, forming up in a sprawling camp system that encompassed more than a square mile. On 3 August, the unloading was finally completed, having been delayed by the lack of good port facilities. At long last, however, Ratetas and his army were ready to do battle.
It was excellent timing, to say the very least. The reversal of fortunes had only gotten worse since the Nikaians had sent their cry for help, and they were now on the ropes. While the klephts and the armatoloi still clung on in the highlands, Malkoçoğlu Bali Bey and his cavalrymen had succeeded in driving them from the lowlands of Bithynia, and many of the major cities had surrendered rather than share the fate of Kolpazar. Back in June, Ebülhayr Paşa had dispatched a small force to put down the revolt, and the two factions had made common cause to put down the rebels. Magnesia itself was under siege, and if it were to fall the fire would go out of the rebellion altogether. Ratetas was hastily informed of all of this by Panagiokhristophorites, who had mustered a host of 3,000 in hopes of breaking the siege or at the very least wearing them down. The arrival of the Trapezuntines was a welcome relief, and the regent and the thief soon began concocting a plan….
After departing Kontolimani, Ratetas and his army marched directly for Magnesia. No doubt driven by fear of the rebel capital falling, they moved swiftly (well, as swiftly as one can when most of your experienced commanders are dead) southwards, beating back Turkmen outriders in all directions. They moved along the left bank of the Sangarios this entire time, seemingly with no regards to secrecy or security. Word of their march reached Malkoçoğlu, and he was left to watch in confusion as they blundered directly towards them. This Ratetas fellow was far from a skilled general according to all reports, but he had to be a special kind of stupid to be acting like he was. Come on, marching 10,000 men directly towards the enemy’s camp when they are superior in both numbers and experience? Nonetheless, the bey decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth and moved to intercept. In order to approach Magnesia from the north, the Trapezuntine army would have to pass through the narrow Sangarios Pass. The Turkmen lay in wait, of course, camped upon the steep slopes of the mountains and waiting for the enemy to make contact with them. Finally, on 17 August, the approaching Trapezuntine force became visible, and Malkoçoğlu readied his men for battle. As the enemy infantry entered the valley, he raised the horsetail banner and ordered his men to open fire, sending a hail of arrows down at them.
But then the left side of the valley exploded into gunfire, sending a hail of bullets and cannonballs streaking across the breadth of the valley. The bey turned to look, or rather he would have turned to look had the left side of his body not decided to try and occupy the same space as a cannonball. More Greeks came swarming out of a small side valley, ranks of men on the side of the mountain opening fire with cannons, arquebuses and crossbows. With hoarse war cries, the Ponts streamed across the valley and fell upon the Turkish ambuscade like a bolt from on-high, easily cutting down the practically unarmored dismounted archers. Taken completely off-guard, the Turkmen were unable to respond in kind for several crucial moments, and with their commander dead and his standard fallen, many of the Turkmen ran for their lives. The Trapezuntines followed them, cutting down many before they reached their waiting horses and fled in disarray.
Panagiokhristophorites had led nearly 15,000 men through a winding series of valleys, over rough hills and in one case even across the face of a sheer cliff to arrive in the flank of the valley, where they hoped the Turkmen would be waiting for Ratetas and the bait force. By sheer luck, it had worked exactly as planned, and now the Ottoman army was shattered, running scared across the valley. The next day, the Trapezuntines relieved Magnesia and paraded through the streets of the beleaguered city to the roar of the townspeople. Ratetas formally accepted Lefkos’ offer of the Nikaian crown on behalf of his charge.
In the following weeks, Trapezuntine forces would spread out across the region, recapturing several cities from the Turks and driving their raiders from much of the highlands. Prousias still stood strong, and Bolu would be put to a siege as their Turkish garrison fought to the bitter end. Phrygia proper was quickly secured, and Ratetas soon directed his attention to an offensive against the still-Ottoman lands to the north and west. That October, Ratetas and a force of 15,000 marched against Nikomedia, once the chief port city of the region. Under Ottoman rule, the city’s defenses had lapsed due to a perceived lack of threat, and its garrison had been siphoned away to join the fighting in Europe. The regent had cannons hauled onto the heights to the north of the city and pounded away at the city walls, but in spite of his best efforts the defenders stood as strong as those in Ferrara, fighting on from the rubble against overwhelming odds. Ebülhayr Paşa was bogged down in Europe, believing that Mehmed was on the ropes and could be defeated within that campaign season, but recognized how damaging the loss of Nikomedia would be and redirected forces to support the city, fearing that with its loss Constantinople would be left open to attack. Because of this, in spite of the long odds facing the defenders, they were able to hold out throughout the autumn of 1516, into the winter of 1516 and then into the spring of 1517. Even as the city was reduced to a glorified pile of rubble and Ratetas ordered frequent assaults across the many breaches in the city’s walls, they were able to hold out. By March of 1517, however, it had become apparent that they wouldn’t be able to do so for much longer. The slow trickle of reinforcements had been cut off entirely as Mehmed’ second wind drove the vizier’s forces back down the Axios Valley, and Ratetas hoped that at long last he would take the city.
But Nikomedia would receive a stay of execution as Ebülhayr Paşa sued for peace. Mehmed had somehow managed to turn the tide in the far west, and he needed every man available to him to be in the field ASAP. He believed that the Trapezuntines would be seriously overextending themselves by pushing into Bithynia, and so they could be rather easily defeated once he had managed to restore order within the Ottoman realm. He was willing to take territorial losses in the east, because he thought they were recoverable. As such, he proposed that Bithynia proper (sans the ports, of course, because the last thing he needed were Trapezuntine ships in the Marmora) be given over to the Nikaians. Ratetas, however, refused. He was far from a seasoned administrator, but he knew that having such a large exclave on the far side of Anatolia was a recipe for disaster. After several weeks of back and forth, the regent and the grand vizier settled upon an agreeable arrangement. All of Ottoman Paphlagonia and Kontolimni would be given over to the Trapezuntines, while the Nikaians would be ceded a decent section of land, a map of which will be posted alongside this. The Nikaians weren’t the happiest, being forced to give up a great deal of their conquered/liberated lands so the Trapezuntines could take Paphlagonia. However, Ratetas brushed off these concerns, instead concerned with word coming out of the Qutlughid Empire. But of course, all of this would be overshadowed by the brewing conflict in the west….
 Trapezuntine merchants were required to give up their ships to the aftokrator in times of crisis, but they weren’t exactly happy about this
 The Qutlughids were, nominally speaking, allies of the Trapezuntines, but alliances only last as long as their members are willing to honor them.
 Some truly ancient galleys were kept around in reserves or mothball fleets, ready to be reactivated in times of crisis if they were needed. Of course, they weren’t exactly effective, but, hey, if push comes to shove it’s always good to be prepared.
 i.e. subcommander
 This refers to the hilly areas in the north and east of Bithynia.