Part LVI: Boyabad (1527)
The Trapezuntines would begin their march to destiny in February 1527. The ground was hard and frozen, and the air was bitterly cold and fierce, driven by winds of the Black Sea, and David couldn’t help but be reminded that marching under similar conditions had led to the death of Maurikios a millennium before. Still, he felt that it was a risk that must be taken; the bandons would need to be stood down for the spring planting soon, while the Rûmite levymen would return as well. His strength was great, Kadir’s was not, and he needed to strike now while he still had the advantage.
The chief reason out of many why David chose to break winter camp before the coming of the spring thaw was sheer numbers. As previously mentioned, the bandons would have to be stood down before the spring planting, and further reinforcements would be unable to arrive until well after the passes had melted and/or the Black Sea had calmed, as additional men would need to be brought in by sea from the west or through the passes from the east. This would put him at a crucial disadvantage for two to three months, at the same time as Rûmite reinforcements would be streaming north, both from the reraised levies and from the dispersed forces across the Plateau that had been sent out the year before. If he did not move swiftly, then he would lose the advantage he had put so much effort into creating previously. There was also the issue of Boyabad itself; the fortress had managed to hold out against the Rûmites for six months despite dwindling supplies and constant bombardment, and its garrison had dwindled to only a few dozen sickly men, who would be unable to resist from the battered ruins of the fortress for a few weeks more, if that. His golden opportunity was here, a month ahead of his intended date but close enough that it was worth the risk. And, so, the aftokrator and his 15,000 men broke camp and marched upriver on 9 February 1527.
Meanwhile, outside of Boyabad, Kadir continued his siege, the conflict by now having transformed into one of necessity if nothing else. The sultan had spent the last six months banging his heads against the fortress walls, pounding them with hundreds of pounds of stone and lead thrown by thousands of pounds of powder, and had nothing to show for it other than some pockmarked walls and several hundred men dead or crippled by failed assaults. If he gave up now and withdrew, he would’ve humiliated himself upon the world stage, something which he could ill afford, as well as given up a great opportunity for a crushing victory against a weak opponent and the spoils of such a conquest. By seizing the city, he would also accomplish his long-desired strategic aim of opening the road into Pontos. By this point, with his army weakened by the winter and dispersed across the breadth of Anatolia, he had secretly begun to despair of a crushing victory, but felt that it was absolutely necessary bar the intervention of God himself for the above mentioned reasons. He had also resolved to seize a city on the far side of the passes either on the field or on the negotiating table, so he didn’t have to go through this mess again. And so he remained in position throughout the winter, and when word came of the aftokrator’s approach he turned his force to meet David rather than fleeing as would have benefited his circumstances.
By the time battle was joined, the Rûmite army was clearly inferior in most regards. They were outnumbered by a factor of a time and a half (1:1.5, ~10,000 against ~15,000) or thereabouts, and would be forced to keep up the siege against Boyabad while fighting the Trapezuntines. They had been forced to spend the winter in siege camps with a poor, if not completely terrible supply situation due to the devastation visited upon Inner Paphlagonia the year before. The Trapezuntines, on the other hand, had been able to keep fairly well supplied throughout the winter, as they had been integrated into Alexandros II’s pan-Pontic supply system. In terms of discipline, the Rûmites held a slight advantage, as David had, after a period of great struggle, been able to integrate and coordinate his new, makeshift army, but it was still less than the nafjayş of Kadir’s host. Both armies had fairly high morale, driven by promises of plunder and the support of God on the Rûmite side and the desire to drive back the invaders and the support of God on the Trapezuntine side, but they wavered in some regards, namely the lack of faith in David in his army and the typical discontent of soldiers made to winter on campaign in Kadir’s. The only area where the Turks held a decisive advantage was in raw firepower, as Kadir was able to pull cannons, many of them truly massive siege guns, from their position to support his line, giving him some 58 guns to David’s 26, the latter being composed primarily of smaller, more maneuverable but less deadly cannons.
The Trapezuntines advanced to a days’ march east of the city (four miles) on 26 February, camping on the left bank of the Amnias River. David feared that his men would be exhausted by the march and so slowed his advance despite knowing it would give the Rûmites time to redeploy to meet him. Kadir did just that, arranging the bulk of his forces along a ridge running between Boyabad and the river. Battalions of militia and nafjayş alternated down the line, the two southernmost units, standing where the ridge was lowest and where the main east road ran, were the heaviest armed and slightly overstrength in comparison to the others. 2,000 men were kept in reserve, one battalion to keep up the siege and another on a ridge running semi-parallel to the main ridge to the north as a reserve. Thirty-four of the Rûmite cannons were positioned along the main line, the rest remaining with the reserve or in the siege lines. The far northern edge of the line was secured by a mixed force of Zazas, Turkmen mercenaries and light infantry, the most mobile forces available to Kadir. The Rûmites waitied tensely that night, mostly confident but still rattled by their numerical inferiority and exhaustion from the long siege.
Meanwhile, across the river, David was alternating between prayer and planning as scouts and infiltrators brought back reports of the Rûmite position. The atmosphere in the Trapezuntine camp was filled with more than the usual amount of nervousness. It was common knowledge that this battle could decide the fate of the war if things went badly enough, and the forces left behind to hold the pass would almost certainly be insufficient to hold off a determined assault. If they failed, would their homes and families be subject to the invaders? No-one could be certain one way or the other, and in some ways not knowing was worse than anything else. Then David emerged from his tent shortly before sunset , wild-eyed and manic. He ordered a cannon shot off to wake his sleeping men, then had every non-clerical, non-soldier follower escorted out of camp. Thousands of groggy and irritated soldiers then assembled in the center of camp, whence David gave a rambling and barely-coherent tirade that was equal parts rousing speech and brimstone sermon. Shockingly, it actually worked in rallying his men, and for the next several hours the camp was turned into a makeshift cathedral, as dozens of priests gave sacraments. As instructed by the voices in his head, David had every shield in the camp painted with the chi rho as another sign of victory before he and his men retired.
David then woke his men once again the following morning, an hour before dawn. Eating and arming themselves quietly in the winter cold, they then took the field in the following manner; 3,000 soldiers, two-thirds of them footmen and the rest cavalry, on the right/northern flank, 4,000 infantry in loose formation in the center, backed by 2,000 tightly-organized heavy infantry as a reserve, and 4,000 heavy and/or veteran infantry on the left/southern flank. The bulk of the cannons were deployed on a ridge on the far bank of the river, but several more were dug in behind the center, a note taken from the Mongols at Ananuri. David was many things, among them fairly inexperienced and mentally unstable, but he wasn’t stupid. He recognized that Kadir planned to lure the bulk of the Trapezuntine force into attacking his understrength southern flank before slamming down into them with the army on the ridge, splitting the Trapezuntine host in twain. To counter this, David planned to bombard the Rûmite center before attacking with his own center, pinning them down and throwing his best men against the hopefully isolated Rûmite right, pushing them back or routing them as his own right smashed through their lighter counterparts and swung into the rear of the enemy center, hopefully inspiring an all-out rout.
With all preparations made, David rode up to his main battery as the sun rose behind the Trapezuntine ranks. With a simple command of “Wake them with thunder.” the guns roared to life. The Battle of Boyabad had begun.
The Rûmite soldier had camped in formation, and so this sudden bombardment inflicted far more damage than it had any right to, briefly throwing the ranks of the men along the ridge into confusion. Kadir, leading by example, had camped with a company of his mamluks in the center of the line, and so he was able to scramble into action and restore order in the center within half an hour of the bombardment beginning. Still, the Rûmites were fighting with a sizable handicap, having missed their breakfast due to the sudden attack and being forced to stand and rapidly organize in the bitter cold. They were also forced to squint into the rising sun to make out the advancing foe, all three of these together being quite demoralizing. Kadir and many of his men expected that he would have until the bombardment ended to fully reorganize, and so they were shocked to meet the Trapezuntine while the cannons still roared from across the valley.
1,000 lightly-armed skirmishers formed the leading edge of the Trapezuntine center, racing forward as a broad wave of men, firing against them at distance with arrows before closing to fight with axes and swords. The Rûmites were caught off-guard, still trying to reposition themselves, and so the light infantry made almost absurd progress against them, cutting down men left and right with blows to the back and head, a rout before the battle had even begun! Then the skirmishers ran headlong into the nafjayş that Kadir had quietly posted behind the militia, the result approximating a watermelon hitting a brick wall at the speed of sound. The skirmishers were sent reeling and quickly fell back down the ridge, buying the Turks the time they needed to form up on the ridge--the advance of the standard bandons was delayed by the retreating skirmishers’ disordered withdrawal.
Meanwhile, the Rûmites had managed to regain their footing, and the cannons on the ridge roared to life, thundering against their counterparts or down upon the advancing infantry. This further slowed down the advancing bandons, although they failed to have any great effect on the bulk of the men. Still, the Trapezuntines advanced, seemingly uncaring of their casualties despite the beating they were taking from the cannonade. David was among them, riding atop a white horse in resplendent armor, encouraging his men to keep their advance and rallying them to the chi rho-defaced Pontic eagle that fluttered above the battalions. An hour after dawn, the main line made contact with their Rûmite counterpart. Blinded by the rising sun and already fairly tired by their alarm and the previous action, the Rûmites were unable to stand against the Trapezuntines, and foot after foot the Ponts began to push them back. The air was filled with the smell of death and blood, and supposedly so many corpses littered the ground that the soldiers fought atop and upon bloated bodies because of the lack of open ground. The Trapezuntine advantage soon began to wane, however, as Kadir himself and his guards appeared in the line opposite to David and exhorted his men to hold the line, joined by many ulema from the various camps. The line stabilized along the spine of the ridge, but the Rûmites failed to turn the tide. For the next three hours, the lines remained nearly static as men fought and died upon each other, unable to advance or retreat from the sheer weight of numbers there. Gradually, more Trapezuntine reinforcements advanced, as the commander of the reserve, Mikhael Stephanides, decided that his men were needed to turn the tide. As he had hoped, the Rûmites at last began to flag and started to be pushed back once again, but this advance was nearly a fatal mistake.
Meanwhile, to the south, the Trapezuntine left was advancing against the Rûmite right. As previously mentioned, this Rûmite flank was the least concentrated, and because of this they appeared to number more than they actually did. The commander of the Trapezuntine left, an eleutheros named Iosephos Osolos, decided that the best response to this would be to try and intimidate the Rûmites in turn, and so ordered the four battalions beneath his command to advance at a dead walk, keeping them fresh and hopefully scaring the shit out of the Turks with the sight of a wall of 4,000 heavily-armed veterans advancing in dead silence. This slowed the Trapezuntine advance and opened them to bombardment from the ridge, but few of the Rûmite guns were in the right position to hit them, and those which did had little effect. An hour after the beginning of the attack, the two flanks made contact. About half of the Rûmites in this section were from the nafjayş, but even they were unable to stand against the monolithic advance of the Ponts. The militia who made up most of the flank fled at once, and the remaining Turkish forces were ground down in less than an hour. The eleutheroi and the heavy bandons were essentially unfatigued thanks to their early waking and slow advance, and so they were able to batter down Rûmite resistance with little effort. The road to Boyabad was scattered with corpses and the ground around it turned red from the sheer amount of corpses scattered across it. Osolos famously quipped that so many Rûmites had met the devil there that the worms spoke Turkish, and at the very least they did not speak Pontic. Osolos then ordered one battalion to advance toward Boyabad to cut off any enemy reinforcements while the other three swung up to flank the forces on the ridge. However, the eleutheroi hadn’t even completed this latter maneuver, nor had the flaming spires of Boyabad come into view, before a rider came from David’s position, frantically summoning Osolos back to the north to cut off an enemy flanking maneuver.
On the northern side of the battle, things had gone disastrously wrong. Some 800 horsemen, 1500 light infantry and 700 fairly inexperienced bandons had been grouped together under the command of Alexios of Oph, instructed to advance against the Rûmite cavalry opposite them and encircle the ridge from behind. They had accomplished the first task admirably, smashing into the unprepared Zazas and Turkmen at the break of dawn and routing them in a few scant minutes, the former leaving a trail of corpses and riderless mounts as they fled down the valley to Boyabad. Oph, inexperienced in anything other than skirmishing with bandits on the Kartvelian frontier, ordered his men to give chase, and the Trapezuntine horsemen soon thundered off behind their counterparts, leaving the light and medium infantry strung out and exposed behind them. The merry chase had ended abruptly fifteen minutes later, as the Rûmite horsemen about faced and met the surprised Trapezuntines with bows and sabers. The Ponts slammed into them with little organization, and the two lines of horsemen began roiling back and forth across the plain. As the infantry approached, the cliffs to their north suddenly exploded into cannonfire, as the Rûmite reserves and their batteries entered the fight, followed by guns from the main ridge. Suddenly enfilated, the infantry advance slowed, then halted. Then the reserves themselves charged down from the heights, slamming into the side of the disorganized and confused formation and putting them to flight almost at once. A small number of Rûmites pursued them, continuing to whip out the Trapezuntines across the breadth of the plains, ensuring they couldn’t complete their mission or panic the main line of infantry by their presence. They then swung down into the rear of the Trapezuntine cavalry, encircling them and slaughtering them to the man in a few scant minutes. The Rûmite formations were soon joined by the battalion left to secure Boyabad, which had set fire to the gatehouse and hurled firebrands over the walls to keep the garrison distracted while they took the field. The Rûmite formation then turned and made up the valley in the inverse of the Pontic advance.
They quickly advanced into the Amnias valley, swinging out into the broad lands around the river and charging down it towards the Trapezuntine force. Although they numbered only 2,500 strong if that, the sudden arrival of a force of any real size on the Trapezuntine flank had its typical demoralizing effects, and as they began to press in on their flank the Pontic right began to buckle. David darted back and forth across the breadth of his force, trying to shore up his faltering flank while keeping up the pressure on Kadir so he couldn’t make things any worse. The eleutheroi were slow in coming, and he feared, no, he knew that if they did not arrive in time then the battle would be lost. The Trapezuntine cannons had fallen silent, probably taken by the Turks, and he could feel the morale of his men sapping every second. Something needed to be done before it was too late, and the voices were telling him exactly what.
Just as the battle seemed to be lost, David and twenty of his guards charged into the center of the Rûmite line, aiming for Kadir’s standard and the presence of the sultan himself. Mounted on heavy chargers, they managed to hack a swathe through the teeming lines of men, coming within a few scant feet of Kadir’s own guard unit. The sultan was ordered to flee by his chief mamluk, who rode to meet the attackers, but it was not Kadir that the Trapezuntines were aiming for. To the confusion of many, the eleutheroi instead attacked the sultan’s bannerman, hacking the poor bastard down and ripping down the sultan’s standard and fleeing back towards their lines. All but David and three of his guards would be killed, but the day had been won.
The fall of the sultan’s banner led many to believe that the attack had succeeded in killing Kadir, and the Rûmites began to waver. This gave just enough time for Osolos and his men to arrive like the metaphorical cavalry and drive back the flanking force, pushing them back up the hill and eventually around into the Rûmite rear, sparking the hoped-for retreat. The Rûmite army shattered and fled the field, most running south or west, away from both the Ponts and Boyabad. David and his army were exhausted, and so he ordered only a few bandons to pursue them, leaving the rest to collapse into rest. It wasn’t even noon yet.
That afternoon, Boyabad was at long last relieved. The city was more of a morgue than a city by this point, heavily burned and scoured of anything edible by the surviving garrison of skeletal men, but it had served its purpose and held against all odds. David entered the city in a triumphal procession, and as the sun set that night the newly-created eagle with chi rho was raised above the city’s ramparts. Celebratory masses were held in the city’s cathedral, which was pockmarked by cannon balls and other projectiles. Total losses from Boyabad were quite staggering by Renaissance standards. The Trapezuntines had lost 4,500 out of the 14,000 men who had taken the field, as well as several of their cannons which had been spiked by the retreating Rûmites. Rûmite losses were even worse, having lost 6,000 of their 10,000 men that day, as well as all but three of their cannons spiked or captured. Without a doubt, the Trapezuntines had won the day.
However, things were far from over. While the passes over into Pontos had been defended and the gateway city held, most of Inner Paphlagonia still languished under the Rûmite yoke and would need to be liberated. Trapezous itself was also teetering on insolvency thanks to the near-famine the previous year, and the bandons would need to be stood down soon to prevent things from spiralling out of control. The road to Kastamone and beyond would be long and arduous, and David was quietly unsure that he could do it within the next two years, if that. As such, he was willing to negotiate when Kadir sued for peace. The fears of domestic unrest which had caused the sultan to undertake this war in the first place would almost certainly take place now that his army had been shattered. Reinforcements were coming, sure, but they were needed for more important things. Kadir hoped to make peace now, before David became aware of these facts and he could thus negotiate with a strong hand. David was willing to tender negotiations, and after some back and forth an agreement was reached;
Beypazar, Gerede and Nalisaray, which were untenable and already taken by the Rûmites, respectively, would be ceded to Konya. Their populations were composed mostly of Turks, and a wholesale massacre would be needed to bring them back to anything approaching loyalty, something which David believed God would frown upon. In exchange, Erzincan would pass under Trapezuntine rulership. As payment for Beypazar and Nalisaray (see below) Konya would give over several dozen pounds of gold and silver, as well as two thousand weights of grain. The Peace of Kastamone, as it would be known, shows a surprising regard for honor by the rulers of the opposed polities. Kadir had given promises of protection to the Nalisarayans and the Geredeans, which David would not force him to void, and vice versa with David and the Qizilbaş of Erzincan. After the peace, the terms were swiftly carried out, and by the end of April the borders had effectively changed.
That summer, of course, Kadir’s woes would expand from domestic rebels to foreign foes….
 I kind of neglected the last decade of Alexandros II’s reign, I’ll fix that if I ever do a redux.
 David, ever the theologian, always rode a white horse on public occasions and/or battle, using it to tie himself to the conquering White Horseman of Revelations. Prior to the 19th Century, the White Horseman was considered to be symbolic of the spread of Christianity itself, not with the power of Antichrist as it is now.
 The eleutheroi fought on foot. Even if they had wanted to mount, all of the horses were gone with Kaballarios’ raid, so it’s not like they could have.