Alright, I'm not sure how my form is on this one, but I've spent a week revising and rewriting and just want to get it out and keep the story moving. Please be patient with me, and comment if you have any questions/concerns.
Part LXXVIII: Long Live the Aftokrator? (1556-1559)
“The emperor has such wonderful friends: hither the hungry mob with their torches and clubs, thither the jealous noblemen with their daggers and poison and yon the angry soldiers with their swords and muskets.”
-- Nikolaos Eugenidis, O Sevastos ke o Asevastene (1602)
Ioannes was an unremarkable man, a Lazic herder living in the hills east of Kapnanion, and in fact he was so unremarkable that he is an effective embodiment of the average commoner living in Pontos in the middle of the 16th century. Ioannes lived in a small village in the foothills with a wife (Elene), three sons (Isaakios, Konstantinos and Ioannes) and a daughter (Anna), and spent most of his time in the fields with his sons. Ioannes liked David. Had he actually met him? Eh, no, but did it matter? It was plain as day that the aftokrator was doing a good job. It had been years since the local bandon had been called up, and in that time there had been several bumper harvests, no major mudslides or earthquakes and foreign merchants had raised the price of wool enough for Ioannes to send his middle son off to a seminary. Always a bright boy, Konstantinos. Hopefully he’d find a wife before he took holy orders. Anyway, where was he? David. If he wasn’t doing a great job, then why would God bless the people of Pontos like he had? Simple as.
Then things started to change. First the bandon was called out, and because Ioannes had hurt his leg a year before Isaakios went instead and they marched down to the coast to join the main army. A few years later the storms start to hit, and after weeks of heavy rain the whole village is swept away in a mudslide. Thank God Ioannes Iunior was up in the hills with their small flock or they would’ve been ruined, but most of their neighbors weren’t so lucky. Then a bad flu, the worst one Ioannes can remember, hits what’s left of the town and Anna dies and he himself nearly does as well. Then they hear that David’s dead, has in fact been dead for a year and a half, and that Isaakios probably isn’t coming back, and that some man named Evangelos has returned from Syria claiming that David made him his heir. David is dead in a foreign land, some stranger has returned from Syria saying he’s the rightful aftokrator with no proof and now God is punishing them. Ioannes starts to wonder if maybe God doesn’t want this Evangelos to rule….
The failure of Evangelos’ reign was built on a near complete inability to gain support from the general population, both noble and commoners, and ultimately his falling out with the church. Each of these failures will be addressed in turn, but it is important to note the kind of man that the new aftokrator was. Born in Calvi, he spoke with a strong Maniot (or, as far as the Ponts were concerned, hick) accent that could be almost unintelligible depending on the time, and this handicap did little to assuage his already poor rhetorical skills. On a personal level, he was at least somewhat personable, or at least tepidly kind, but combined with a violently short temper, tendency to hold grudges and fly into rages at seemingly no provocation made him seem like a hypocrite or just a general prick. While he was quite good at mathematics and the natural sciences of the 16th century, he also had a tendency towards obsessiveness and a need to oversee everything done in his name. Altogether, he wasn’t exactly an inspiring figure, and had little natural charisma to help win over the already hesitant population of the Megalokomnenoi domains, with the notable exception of many of the bandonoi that he commanded personally, winning respect through a willingness to endure everything his men did and perfrance for common people over the nobility, who he always (correctly) suspected hated him or at least saw him as unqualified. He wasn’t inept, of course, and his potential to be a good ruler was what had brought him to David’s attention in the first place, he wouldn’t have been the most clear-cut ruler in a state familiar with internal regime changes and palace coups if he was a direct son of the previous ruler, as opposed to a distant cousin who held power only by the seignority of a deadman. If nothing else though, he was quite hard-willed and would execute any goal he decided on to the best of his abilities, a trait that would both save him and doom him at different points in his reign.
In hindsight, any aftokrator who took power in the 1550s would have faced an uphill battle. Many of the bandons had been out of the country on campaigns in the east, west and south for years by then and their presence was still bitterly missed in many of the marginal farms of the empire, causing minor food shortages and no little amount of grumbling from families who had not seen their sons, husbands or fathers in many seasons. The government reserves established by Alexandros II and kept well-stocked by David were already being called upon by the time that the real troubles began. The winter of 1552 was unusually cold and stormy, and a great deal of snow fell in the Pontic Alps and the Paphlagonian and Caucasian Mountains. When spring arrived, all this excess snow and ice melted, and the many small rivers that flowed down through the forested hills were suddenly flooded, washing out many fields just as planting was due to begin and seriously damaging the infrastructure that connected the outlying provinces. With planting delayed and the soil disturbed, that year’s harvest was much less than the preceding years’, which could have been overcome were it not for another cruelly long winter that delayed planting. The harvest of 1554 was passible, and the nearly exhausted granaries seemed to be able to get some relief, but then 1555 saw another hard winter and another flood in the spring of 1556, which again washed out fields and roads, delaying the delicate farmer’s calendar and causing all sorts of havoc. Things weren’t quite yet at famine levels, but they were still quite bad, and the growing discontent that emerged whenever there was a string of harvest failures such as this was only worsened by the outbreak of a new strain of consumption which, though thankfully not a major killer, killed enough people to make the survivors angry and desperate but not enough to keep said survivors from doing something about this new ruler who had clearly angered God.
Evangelos acted quickly, but found his options limited. After a harrowing journey through the rapidly collapsing Neo-Rumite state that had taken several months, he had returned to Trapezounta in the early spring of 1556 and was immediately confronted by this crisis, with little time to secure his hold on the throne from the many circling vultures of Trapezuntine politics, leaving his ability to deal with this crisis in a precarious position. Nonetheless, he persevered, becoming determined to use this as an opportunity to shore up his position. The obvious solution was to import grain from somewhere else in the Black Sea regions, but such grain was in short supply; Kartvelia had experienced similar problems with their crop, Rumistan, Armenia and Persia were all in chaos, Shkoze’s Albania was standoffish over Constantinople and for some reason Moldavia refused to sell any grain to the Trapezuntine government, coming within a hair of breaking the Black Sea trade cycle and keeping it intact only by selling to a handful of Pontic trading companies. Ultimately, most of the limited amount of grain that Evangelos imported was shipped down the Dnieper from the Polish frontier at a worryingly high expense, limiting the amount of grain that could be purchased and given to the hungry. Indeed, most of the bandonoi outside of Pontos proper in Paphlagonia, Kartvelia and Khaldia got little to nothing from the central government, a fact with lasting ramifications in the short-term future.
Trying to salvage the situation, Evangelos made a great show of personally helping give out food and sending out broadsheets crowing about the imperial disaster relief, but this backfired hard in the regions not reached by the relief, leaving to grumblings amongst the commoners that Evangelos was incompetent because of his inability to get them the grain he was bragging about, and moreover he was an insulting incompetent because he thought his propaganda would make up for their hungry stomachs. He didn’t, of course, but they didn’t know that, and the black cloud that this episode produced would hang over Evangelos long after the harvest of 1558 was brought in and ended the burgeoning crisis. The lower classes would never regard the aftokrator with anything regarding the affection they showed David, and though the tax revolts that would mar the latter section of the First Time of Troubles wouldn’t emerge during his reign much of the rural support for anti-Evangeline forces could be traced back to this period.
In part, Evangelos’ failure to adequately deal with the crop failures can be connected to the other failure of the early part of his reign, namely his inability to reign in the nobility. The Trapezuntine nobility had been a persistent concern for almost every ruler to sit in Trapezounta since Alexios I Megalokomnenos had conquered it, and the reigns of Alexios V and David I were together one of the few exceptions. Alexios’ insane murderous rampage had gutted the ranks of the upper nobility and driven most of them into exile, and David (as well as Ratetas during his regency) had seized upon this as an opportunity to codify stronger powers for the aftokrator. However, no man is an island, and as the Megalokomnenos territories expanded and David began to lose some of his capacity as a ruler he was forced to delegate power to men beneath him. Mindful of past history, most of these positions and titles had gone to men whose loyalty he was certain of and who held little social standing or power in and of themselves, but over the decade-spanning remnant of his reign many of them began to accrue power in their own right, carving out niches for themselves within the bureaucracy and rear-echelon parts of the military. Their power was far from that of the old aristocracy, but they still wielded a great deal of indirect influence, especially in the countryside and the outlying cities of the realm. With Evangelos’ ascension to power, many of the more corrupt members of the bureaucracy and army were nervous and began quietly watching the new ruler to see how he would attempt to wield the levers of power. With the problems posed by the famine as well as the sudden influx of raiders from Central Anatolia that saw little response above the moirarkhate level, there seemed to be an opportunity for them to expand their power, a possibility that many of them seized upon with relish. There would be no open or direct opposition--any grifter or would be novo homus wouldn’t be stupid enough to pick a fight with the short-tempered new ruler--but they would certainly quietly test the limits of their power and begin to expand their influence within the government. These inefficiencies and corruption would begin to gradually wear away at the government’s power, especially as outside pressures grew tremendously, and filled Evangelos with a great deal of not-entirely-paranoid concern about elements within the bureaucracy seeking to undermine his hold on power.
While his support from the common populace and the bureaucracy were limited, to say the least, Evangelos had somewhat decent relations with the patriarch, Eugenios II. Recognizing that his support from one of the major pillars of the state was weak to non-existent and that the army was in a delicate enough position as it was, the aftokrator decided that his best option was to throw his lot in with the church and pray it could keep him on the throne long enough to reform the military. As such, he made a number of major donations to both the Patriarchate and the church at large, making sizable gifts from his own personal funds and to a lesser extent the Imperial treasury and ‘suggesting’ that some of the more hostile nobles and bureaucrats transfer their properties to the church. This only further worsened his conflict with the latter, but the ever-mercurial Eugenios was won over and the influence of the Pontic Patriarchate grew. On the other hand, he effectively sidelined the Ecumenical Patriarch in government policy, being able to wield far less influence over it due to its location in Constantinople, and made only tepid efforts to win the support of the Georgian Patriarch, the now rapidly-aging Shio III. In fact, Shio would die in 1558 and his successor, Zebede I Bagrationi, would barely receive any attention from Evangelos, being effectively ignored in a manner similar to the Ecumenical Patriarch, the only difference being that Zebede had the resources to do something about it directly….
Finally, there was the army. Crippled after Meggido and the loss of most of the eleutheroi and the neostrategoi, Evangelos was forced to reconstitute everything above the bandon level--not that plenty of those hadn’t been lost as well. He attempted to muster the neostrategoi from the local Pontic and Kartvelian population, then soon realized that arming the people whose loyalty he was unsure of was a really bad idea and began recruiting from the warlike tribes of the Caucasus, especially the Pkhovelians, Abkhazians and Circassians. After moving them around enough to prevent mutinies based on ethnicity, he then began the process of training them into a fighting force, something which would take years to be fully accomplished. The eleutheroi, meanwhile, would be difficult to reconstitute given the destruction of the steppe slave markets that had proven their best recruiting grounds, and the notion would be abandoned entirely for a few years. In the meantime--and to put an end to the raids coming out of Anatolia and the Azeri plains--he hired a great deal of mercenaries, typically also from the Caucasus, Italy or Persia, all of which had no shortage of experienced men who needed to abandon the countries of their birth for whatever reasons. In 1557 he campaigned against one of the Turkish raiding captains, Ghazi Yusuf, and defeated his host outside Mersyphon, scattering it and recovering many of the slaves and loot taken by him. With this victory in hand, he returned to Trapezounta far more confident, believing that he had legitimized himself and could tighten his hold on power to begin his reign properly.
Then everything went to hell all at once.
 Turns out this is how it’s supposed to be spelled. I’ll be phasing it in.
 Name of Turkish Anatolia from hereon
 Will be dealt with in a few updates, but suffice to say they’ve broken away from direct Trapezuntine control for the indefinite future.
 The development of Trapezuntine press will be dealt with later.