From here on out I'll be aiming for smaller updates, and God willing I'll be able to keep up a steady schedule. Additions and revisions from the draft are in red.
Part LX: The Davidine Army (1527-1533)
The First Rûmite-Trapezuntine War greatly impacted the Trapezuntine military. With many of his best soldiers killed in the east or exhausted by months of constant marching, David had been forced to rely almost entirely on the interior bandons. They had done well, comparatively speaking, but the near famine that ensued because of their long absence was a warning of future crisis, and their inability to campaign for extended periods of time put them at a serious disadvantage. With the lessons of the last wars fresh in mind, it was time for David to overhaul the army.
The most pressing issue was the near-complete lack of high-quality cavalry. Neither the Greeks nor the Lazes were equestrian-inclined peoples, and the mountains and forests of the Pontic coast did little to rectify this. The Turkmen were excellent horsemen, but they were restive at best and outright hostile at worst, and none of the Trapezuntine rulers were willing to take the risk of allowing them into the army as anything other than scouts or outriders. As such, they had gotten on for centuries without anything more mobile than light infantry. This had been tolerable while Trapezuntine interests were limited to the coastal highlands, but now that they were pushing into the interior a counter was needed to the fast-moving horsemen of the Rûmite and Qutlughid armies. While Djoga the Grey and his Mongol horde were servants of the aftokrator, their pastures in Perateia were too distant to be of good use, and there weren’t enough of them to be truly advantageous anyway. However, the submission of the Qizilbaş of Erzincan to Trapezous planted a seed, and as David undertook his military reforms this speed would sprout into a great forest.
The Qizilbaş were a strange bunch. For centuries, groups of nomads had passed through the Armenian Highlands en route to greener pastures, and by-and-by some of them had broken off and remained in the region. By the 16th century, the region was dominated by the Oghuz, Turkmen and smaller groups of semi-nomadic Persians, Kurds, Lurs, Talyshes and even some Uzbeks and escaped slaves. The one thing uniting this disparate group of nomads, semi-nomads and craftsmen was faith; for varying reasons over the centuries, the Qizilbaş had fallen under the influence of the Safaviyya, a Shi’a mystic order headquartered at Ardabil on the eastern edge of the South Azerbaijan Highlands. The Safaviyya held sway over much of the mountainous Middle East, as various Qizilbaş bands wandered about and took up service as mercenaries and elite troops. By the 1520s, Ardabil’s shadow spread as far west as Syria, where a Qizilbaş tribe had followed the Çandarids towards Egypt, and as far east as Karakum Desert. Nonetheless, the bulk of the Qizilbaş resided in an arc stretching from northwestern Persia into Anatolia, straddling the Rûmite-Qutlugh borderlands.
Despite their influence, the heterodox beliefs of the Safaviyya meant that neither of the neighboring realms could fully embrace them, instead keeping them at arm’s length and limiting their religious expression and practical control to keep their hold on the rest of the country. Both Tabriz and Konya were cold and somewhat overbearing masters by necessity of their Sunni faith, something which Trapezous did not have to be. The vassalization of the Qizilbaş in Erzincan had opened the possibility of a symbiotic relationship with the Safaviyya in David’s mind, and he hoped to use the mystic order both to reinforce his armies and allow him to spread his influence throughout the region. In 1529, he secretly wrote to Ali Mirza, the head of the Safaviyya, and offered him land, protection and funds if he agreed to an alliance between them. Ali Mirza was quite afraid of Arlsan’s potential wrath and so refused out of hand, but kept the message quiet as a future source of leverage. Nonetheless, the offer of support and protection from various feuding enemies led a few thousand of the Qizilbaş to migrate into Trapezuntine territory, settling around Erzincan. From these men, David was able to extract a pledge of loyalty, securing the first of his new cavalry forces.
In 1531, Ali Mirza died of an unknown illness, passing the office of head of the order to his brother, Esma’il. Esma’il was a warrior-poet, one of the greatest commanders of the Qutlughid Empire; he had led the Qizilbaş as the vanguard of Qutlughid armies in lands as distant as Kartvelia, the Hindu Kush and Syria, fighting in dozens if not hundreds of actions but emerging without so much as a single wound. He was regarded by his men as a heaven-sent commander who would never lose a battle, and had briefly become the left-hand of the shah himself. However, now that Arslan was clearly on the brink of death, Esma’il looked to secure a place for his marginalized group in the near future. David wrote to him as he had his brother, and this time received a positive response. That autumn, Esma’il and his followers would abandon Ardabil and relocate to Erzincan (and to a lesser extent, Erzurum), establishing the city as the new capital of the order and developing a tacit patron-client relationship with David and Trapezous. This arrival caused a small deal of domestic turmoil within the country, but this was entirely overshadowed by the sheer force--more than 15,000 fighting men--that the newcomers brought with them, as well as the promise of more men that could be called upon if war were to break out. While the relationship between Trapezous and Erzincan seemed to be good, no-one could be truly sure of its future until push came to shove and the armies were mustered out….
With a strong cavalry force secured, David turned his attention to his infantry. As previously mentioned, the bandons were competent and reliable, but couldn’t be kept in the field for very long because of their semi-professional nature. David saw no reason to replace them entirely, but it had become apparent that another force was needed, something that combined the numbers of the bandons with the discipline and endurability of the eleutheroi, even if they didn’t fully match up. There weren’t nearly enough slaves available to create an expanded eleutheroi of the proper size, and so an army of natives would be needed. The ruler and his generals got to work experimenting with ethnic composition (Greek/Laz/Armenian, etc.), the recruiting basis of the new force (entirely volunteer or mixed), the weapons and uniforms of the new army and even their drills and tactics. From this process of trial and error had, by 1531, emerged the neostrategos.
The neostrategos arose from the simple observation that an army which ground down the enemy at a distance would take less casualties than an army which relied primarily on melee combat. Advances in weapons technology meant that muskets could be produced on a grand scale, even grander than that of the cannons, and given that it was much easier to train musketeers than it was to train bowmen, a force of gunmen seemed entirely possible. Of course, they’d be vulnerable while they reloaded, so they would need to either fire in lines, or have protection from ‘classical’ phalanx formations, preferably both. They should never be advanced beyond the line and so should maintain the support provided by the main line, but there had to be enough conventional soldiers to ward off any enemy charges. Any such unit would also have to be spread out enough to make good effect of their muskets, but not so spread out that they couldn’t be maneuvered. There were so many demands and requirements that needed to be balanced….
The first true neostrategos regiment was fielded in 1530. It numbered an even thousand men, of which fifty were corpsmen, standard bearers and other secondary combatants. The regiment was drilled to be able to form up in a half-dozen different ways, in a manner similar to that of the old bandon system. There were two types of foot soldiers. The pikemen bore polearms such as pikes, spears and billhooks and were heavily armored as benefited a conventional melee army of the period. The musketeers, meanwhile, were armed primarily with muskets, as well as a mixture of lighter weapons--swords, axes and maces, etc.--as a last ditch defense, and some lighter armor as well. Both groups wore dark blue tunics, and the long Lazic hats that the Ottomans had once used. The hope was that the two groups would be able to support each other, strengthening them and allowing them to function like armies in miniature.
David intended to raise some fifteen of these regiments, but by the time war would break out in the east only six of them had been mustered and trained. Ultimately, only twelve neostrategos regiments would be raised throughout David’s reign, most recruiting going to merely replacing losses from years on the battlefield. The units would prove to be quite effective, of that there was no doubt, but there was a great deal both public and private that the program was worth its ultimate cost. In a time fraught with financial uncertainties and declining revenues courtesy of the Spaniards and Irish, the costliness of the neostrategos--per head, they cost a time and a half as much as the eleutheroi to keep in the field--was a major drawback. The eleutheroi were also expanded, an action which drew some of the first direct criticism of David from the presses of Trapezous. The actions which David would take to lessen the financial burden incurred by these actions will be addressed later, but if it is true that they were at least partially motivated by fear of domestic turmoil, their consequences would be greatly ironic.
After direct military reform had been seen too, or more accurately once he had done all he could directly, David turned his attention to the Empire’s defenses. Fifty years before, the Pontic landscape and its winter had proven to be the undoing of a vast Turkish host, and as David (or perhaps Mgeli?) concluded, the Trapezuntine heartland and hinterland would both be immensely more defensible if the proper defenses were erected. Great deals of coin and labor would be invested into turning the Pontic Alps into a wall impenetrable by cannon or by traitors.
The Akampsis River had once been a major artery of trade connecting the Black Sea with Trapezuntine Samtskhe, but with the loss of Vatoume to the Kartvelians it became a liability, offering a highway into the heartland of the Empire to an invading force. David ordered all but one bridge across it destroyed, leaving only the crossing directly opposite Vatoume. The river was relatively narrow, but roared and crashed along the walls of its canyon with such speed and ferocity that it would be impossible to cross except in a few places, which were also fortified with cannonade. Any Kartvelian attack would have to come across that lone bridge, while the Trapezuntines could land nearly anywhere along the coastline, if not in Vatoume itself.
Due to the great expenses involved in constructing fortifications, David was forced to be choosy in the location of the strongholds which were erected during this period. The bulk of them lay along the eastern and southern frontiers, but there were some exceptions made where geography dictated that they be pulled back from the border. For instance, Erzurum--which sits exposed in the Armenian Highlands--was defended only by its (expanded and reinforced) city walls, the outer line of defenses running through the mountains to its north. While physical hardpoints were few, David made good use of Mgelian tactics. Roads were slimmed to easily obstructed chokepoints, small forts were hidden in dense stands of trees to serve as raiding bases, gutters were cut in mountainsides to flood out roads if they were ever opened, and the bandons stationed along these roads were supplied with caltrops and all sorts of nasty traps to slow down or even halt any invading force.
It didn’t matter how many men came against Trapezous if none of them reached it.
As previously mentioned, David’s remilitarization efforts were exorbitant, and required the payment of a vast amount of money to various sources. By 1531, the sakellaroi were struggling to keep up payments, and eventually he outright begged David to stop. The young ruler felt that his mobilization wasn’t complete, but had been expecting a cashflow problem to break out for some time now and so relented. Trapezous was, in his mind at least, in as good condition as he could realistically hope for it to be going into a future conflict with the Kartvelians or Qutlughids.
The timing of this decision couldn’t have been better. A few weeks after the sakellarios’ desperate request, Arslan II was dead, and the Qutlughid Empire was suddenly pitched into chaos. Trapezous, now far stronger than before, was perfectly placed to take her revenge with all haste…*