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  • Eparkhos

    T H E U N D Y I N G E M P I R E
    a timeline by Eparkhos

    In the void left by the collapse of the Byzantine Empire in 1204, the exiled scions of the Komnenos Dynasty were able to stage a victorious return to their homeland, establishing the Trapezuntine Empire. In the years after, the Pontic Empire and the House of Megalokomnenos both withered under constant foreign assault. However, the exiled Alexandros has returned from exile like his forefathers, determined to resurrect his realm’s fortunes and raise it to new heights. The rebirth of Rome has begun….

    Ioannes IV of Trapezous, a patricidal but buffoonish ruler, attempted to intercept a raid in force on Trapezous’ eastern territories and was utterly routed, being forced to ride into the sea to escape his pursuers. This defeat alerts his exiled brother, Alexandros I, to the weakness of the realm and with the help of the Genoese he overthrows Ioannes in 1450. Over the following years, Alexandros overhauled the Trapezuntine state and army in preparation for war with the Ottomans, reshaping the Empire in his image. Thankfully, before the Turks attack a coalition of Latin crusaders savage the Sublime Porte, leading to the collapse of Ottoman Europe and the subsequent loss of Ottoman Anatolia to the Karamanids. Alexandros I died in 1465, leaving a disputed succession.

    After his death, Alexandros’ sons, Alexios and Sabbas, struggled over the throne. Sabbas succeeded in seizing the capital, and forced Alexios to flee to the fortress of Kapnanion, to which he then laid siege. In 1466, Alexios sallies out as his Kartvelian (Georgian) allies arrive to support him, but in the ensuing battle both he and Sabbas are killed.

    The throne passes to Alexios’ underage son, Alexandros II, with his Kartvelian mother, Keteon, as regent. After a contentious period of sole regency, she remarries to one of Sabbas’ lieutenants, Alexios Mgeli, to secure the support of the military. Keteon and Mgeli rule for the next decade, conquering several adjacent territories and resisting the advances of the Chandarid Turks.

    In 1475, Alexandros II took the throne in his own right. He conquers southern Crimea, Paphlagonia and is given the city of Vatoume in exchange for supporting the king of Kartvelia against a usurper. In 1482, he declared war against the Ottomans in conjunction with the Venetians, only for them to abandon him. The Turks lay siege to Trapezous herself, but are unable to take it and are ravaged by the winter and disease. The Trapezuntines and Kartvelians are together able to repulse them. Alexandros creates a network of alliances to protect Trapezous, overseeing an era of prosperity and domestic quiet. A decade on, the Trapezuntines assist the Kartvelians in driving back a Mongol horde. By the time of his abdication, Alexandros had presided over two decades of peace and internal growth, but he essentially ignored his own family to do so. In 1506, he suffered a nervous breakdown and abdicated.

    The throne passed to a distant cousin, Nikephoros, as the princes Alexios and Romanos were psychotic and barely functioning, respectively. Nikephoros was a kind but not especially competent ruler, and he allowed Alexios to make a deal with Anastasia Katsarina, a powerful courtier, under his nose. In 1507 he was assassinated.

    Alexios V was a deranged and tyrannical ruler. In a brief conflict with the Samtskheotes, he annexed a good bit of land, but this only made him more paranoid about foreign and domestic threats. Over his seven years in power, he would have hundreds murdered and hundreds more imprisoned or sold into slavery. Finally, he was assassinated by Katsarina, but before the fatal wound ended him he purged the court and most of the army of any suspected traitors. He was succeeded by his only son, the underage David.

    David’s first two years on the throne were tumultuous, as a rotating cast of would-be regents fought for control. Eventually, the megas doux Loukas Ratetas took the regency, ruling competently and honorably in the name of his ward. During the regency, the Greeks of Bithynia revolted against the Ottomans, and with Trapezuntine help the Turks were driven out from much of the country, and the resurrected Empire of Nikaia united in personal union with Trapezous. At Ratetas’ death, David smoothly began to rule in his own right.

    In 1525, a Mongol horde shattered the combined might of Trapezous and Kartvelia at Ananuri. All of eastern Georgia fell under Mongol rule, but with Trapezuntine help the west was able to hold out under the leadership of Mamia Dadiani, who David considered to be his ally. Shortly afterwards, the Rûmites invaded under the sultan Kadir, but after several years of warfare they were repulsed. The Qutlughid Persian Empire, whom the Trapezuntines were nominally vassals of, took interest and invaded Rûm as well, but Kadir managed to evade Qutlughid armies and nearly take their capital before he was crushed. Because the Trapezuntines hadn’t aided him but the Kartvelians had, Shah Arslan helped Dadiani drive out the Mongols, and they turned against David, reducing several of the border territories.. Insulted and betrayed, David plans a war of revenge, seeking out new allies and new ways of fighting.
    Part I: The Battle of Kapnanion........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1447-1449)

    Part II: Hail, the Conquering Prince Comes!....................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1449-1450)
    Part III: The Alexandrian Army..........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1450-1459)
    Part IV: Keeping the Trebizond..........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1450-1459)
    Part V: War of the First Holy League................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1459-1462)
    The Balkans After the Treaty of Haskovo....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1462)
    Part VI: An Old Tiger...........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1460-1465)
    Part VII: Succession........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1465)

    Part VIII: The Brother's War...............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1465-1466)
    Part IX: The Struggle for Regency.....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1466-1467)
    Part X: Fish of Bronze.........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1467-1468)
    Part XI: Counterstrike....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1468)

    Part XII: Administering an Empire....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1468-1473)
    Part XIII: A Matter of Faith.................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1469-1476)
    Part XIV: Aftokrator, Aftokephalos?.................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1474-1476)
    Part XV: The Paphlagonian War.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1475-1478)
    Part XVI: The War of the Three Alexanders....................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1477-1482)
    Part XVII: Coming to Brasil................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1478-1481)

    Part XVIII: Notaras' War....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1477-1482)
    Anatolia and the Surrounding Regions.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1484)
    Part XIX: Protas Nikas........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1481-1484)
    Part XX: Siege......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1484-1485)

    Part XXI: A Brief Interlude.................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1484-1485)
    Part XXII: Union (Fields of Saint Eugenios).....................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1485-1487)
    Part XXIII: Recovery...........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1486-1495)
    Part XXIV: The Spider's Web.............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1486-1495)
    Part XXV: Gog and Magog................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1495-1497)

    Part XXVI: Oak and Ash and Thorn.................................................................................................................................................................................................................................(1481-1500)
    Last edited:
    An Introduciton
  • Eparkhos


    As one empire died, another rose.

    In the spring of 1204, the ancient city of Constantinople fell to an army of Latins[1]. The Byzantine[2] Empire had been in decline since the 1180s, when Andronikos Komnenos had overthrown his young cousin Alexios II and declared himself emperor, only to be overthrown in turn by Isaakios II Angelos, who was in turn overthrown by his brother Alexios III Angelos. This cycle of coupes had bankrupted the empire and seen its once organized administrative system collapse into a network of provincial governors, rebels and local warlords who nominally answered to Constantinople. It was obvious to any outside observer, that the moribund state would make an easy target for conquest. One of these outside observers was the Doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo, who used his position to re-route a crusade to Constantinople, nominally in support of Isaakios II’s son Alexios. After Alexios and Dandolo had a falling out, the Latins sacked Constantinople, ending some twelve centuries of direct rule dating back to Augustus himself, and then set about partitioning the remains.

    However, Dandolo was not the only foreign ruler to note the weakness of Byzantium. As the Latins were camped before the walls of the Eternal City, Queen Tamar of Kartvelia dispatched an army westward. Two of Andronikos Komnenos’ grandsons, Alexios and David Megas Komnenos, had escaped the purges following their grandfather’s downfall and fled to Kartvelia, and Tamar now intended to prop them up as puppets to secure her own realm. Only a few weeks before Constantinople fell, the brothers entered Trapezous, capital of Byzantine Pontus, to a jubilant crowd. They pressed further on, taking Sinope and Pontoherakleia on the Black Sea in the following months, but attacks from the Seljuk Turks forced the brothers to split their forces, with Alexios rushing back to Trapezous to repel a siege in 1206. In 1208, David and his army were routed by one of the warlords, Theodoros Laskaris, at the Battle of Sangarios and forced to withdraw back to Sinope. With her borders secured, Tamar pulled most of her support after Sangarios and left the brothers to their own devices.

    In the following decades, the Trapezuntine Empire began to wither away. Alexios I was a capable ruler, as was his son Manouel, but Manuel’s sons were less so. In 1214, Sinope fell to the Seljuk Turks, and Trapezuntine control in the interior, which had once stretched as far south as Theodosiopolis (Ezurum) was chipped away at by the wild Turkmen tribes of the eastern Plateau. The dwarf empire was also deeply divided, with the Greek landholders and courtiers (the Skholaroi faction) competing with the local Lazic soldiers and merchants (the Amytzantarantes faction) for the emperor’s favor. By the turn of the 14th century, the Trapezuntine Empire had been reduced to a thin strip of mountainous coast stretching from the Iris River (Yeşilırmak) in the west to the Georgian frontier in the east, with the southern border being the peaks of the Pontic mountains. There was also a number of small ports and coastal territories, called Perateia, that lay across the Black Sea and nominally answered to Trapezous. Practically, they were the seignoria of the Gavras family, and thus they shall not be elaborated upon.

    In spite of these many domestic problems, the empire flourished domestically during this period. Pontus had long been essentially autonomous from Constantinople, with the Gavroi ruling as independent princes from the 1070s to the 1140s, and the following governors answering only nominally to the capital. This had produced a well-oiled bureaucratic system that efficiently managed the lands under Trapezous’ control, allowing the Megas Komnenoi to collect taxes and manage the estates of their underlings in a manner that often surpassed that of the self-proclaimed Byzantine Emperors who had re-established themselves in Constantinople under the Palaiologoi. Trapezous also grew into a major trade center in the latter half of the 13th Century. The Mongol razing of Baghdad in 1258, while very unfortunate for both the Baghdadites and the sum of human knowledge, had shifted the Silk Road northwards, with Tabriz taking the place of Baghdad and Antioch being replaced by Trapezous itself. Custom duties made Trapezous immensely rich, with the city growing into a trade hub that attracted merchants from as far west as Brittany. Unfortunately, none of the emperors invested this money into a professional army, instead spending it on such trival things as astronomy and math.

    However, this prosperity was not enough to limit the aforementioned domestic tensions, and in the 1330s everything went to hell. In 1330, Alexios II was killed by an early outbreak of plague and was succeeded by his neurotic and paranoid son, Andronikos III. Andronikos executed all but one of his male relatives, with his brother Basileios escaping to Constantinople. After a year and a half, Andronikos died in another bout of plague and Basileios was recalled from his Palaiologian exile by the Amytzantarantes. After deposing and blinding Andronikos’ son Manouel II, Basileios ascended to the throne. The Skholaroi revolted, and it took more than a year for them to be put down, during which time they pillaged much of the eastern part of the realm. After putting down the revolt of the Skholaroi, the navy then revolted and attempted to restore Manouel II. This also took the better part of a year to defeat, and in its aftermath Basileios executed everyone even tangentially involved in the revolts. He then divorced his wife, Eirene Palaiologina, and remarried a Kartvelian woman. This prompted the excommunication of the entire Trapezuntine church structure, which in turn prompted a mass naval battle between the Trapezuntines and the Byzantines. While the fleet was absent, a band of Turkmen invaded and came within three miles of Trapezous before being repulsed. Meanwhile, Eirene Palaiologina began slowly poisoning her ex-husband by unknown methods, finally killing him in 1340.

    After Basileios’ death, records become sketchy. Suffice to say, Trapezous was in a state of anarchy. Eirene briefly seized the palace with the help of the surviving Skholaroi, one of Alexios II’s daughters, Anna Anakhoutlou, departed from her monastery and overthrew Eirene with the aid of the Amytzantarantes. Anna was cooped a few months later by Mikhael Megas Komnenos, who was then counter-couped a few days later and forced to flee for his life. However, a distant cousin of Basileios, Ioannes Megas Komnenos, was recalled from exile in Konstantinoupoli by the Skholaroi and deposed Anna in 1342. However, Ioannes was an utter idiot and the Skholaroi began to fight amongst themselves as well as with the surviving Amytzantarantes. By this point, the plague was beginning to burn its way through the lower classes, ultimately killing more than a third of the entire Trapezuntine population. After two years on the throne, the megas doux[4] Nikephoros summoned Mikhael Megas Komnenos--Ioannes father--from exile and within a few months Mikhael had returned to the throne. While all of this was unfolding, the Turkmen were raiding heavily and seizing border fortresses, while the Genoese were annexing ports left and right. Finally, by 1350 the various factions had bled themselves white and reluctantly agreed to allow Alexios III, Mikhael’s son, to remain on the throne.

    Under Alexios’ long reign, Trapezous stabilized and slowly began to recover. Unfortunately, the damage from the two decades of sheer anarchy was immense, and in spite of his best efforts Alexios was unable to mend them. The navy and army both recovered to some extent, and the administration was able to extend itself over the entirety of the rump empire. Trade was also revived after the Black Death burned itself out, which also aided the reconstruction. In 1390, Alexios was succeeded by his son Manouel III. This period also saw the rise of the Ottoman Empire under Bayezid the Thunderbolt, who was pressing steadily closer to Trapezous. To counter this growing threat, Manouel cast his lot in with the fierce Uzbek conqueror Timur-i Lang in his invasion of Anatolia in the first years of the 15th Century. Timur utterly crushed the Ottomans, capturing Bayezid himself and pushing the Ottomans back to the Bithynian hills. Manouel took advantage of this chaos to seize several ports on the Black Sea, but this drew the ire of the Timurid viceroy of Armenia, Halil Mirza. Mirza campaigned against the Trapezuntines and forced them to pay tribute or be destroyed, which they did. However, this drove Manouel to make an alliance with the Qara Qoyunlu[5], former mercenaries of Timur who had taken to ravaging Armenia. This alliance was strengthened and later expanded to include the splinter Aq Qoyunlu[6] under Manouel’s son and successor Alexios IV, the agreements being secured with the marriage of various Trapezuntine princesses.

    However, even with these foreign entanglements growing to be of increasing magnitude, the inherently Byzantine nature of the Megas Komnenoi was apparent. The reign of Alexios IV was rocked with domestic strife, with his sons and brothers all struggling to make themselves the heirs apparent[7]. In 1428, Alexios appointed his son Alexandros as his co-emperor, a move which infuriated his other son Ioannes. Ioannes traveled to Kartvelia and enlisted the help of the king there in overthrowing his father, returning to Trapezous with a Kartvelian fleet the next year. Ioannes executed his father and his immediate supporters, Alexandros barely escaping with his life. While watching his home city fade away over the horizon from the deck of a Genoese merchantman, Alexandros swore his undying enmity for his brother and promised to himself that he would unseat his brother or die trying[8].

    Ioannes’ reign sees an attempted Ottoman invasion repulsed after the enemy fleet goes down in the notorious winter storms of the Black Sea. This, however, is the exception from the rule as Ioannes is frequently troubled by Turkmen raiders from all directions, some of which are nominally vassals of the Qoyunlus. He fails to repulse these, instead adopting a tactic of attempting to bribe them into leaving him alone. (‘Once you have paid the Dane-geld….’). This did little to stop the raiding but did put him deeply in debt to the Genoese, who wormed their way into power and soon began to regard Trapezous as a vassal in all but name.

    To complete this introduction, let us survey Trapezous’ environs in the year 1446. To the west is the Çandarid beylik, who have long since been eclipsed by the Ottomans and no longer hold anywhere near the power they had under Suleyman Shah some century and a half previous. To the south are the Aq Qoyunlu and the Qara Qoyunlu, two bickering Turkmen federations who are allied with Trapezous, but not so allied that they would jeapordize their domestic stability by trying to reign in the raiding bands who frequently trouble Trapezous. Indeed, they are far from westphalianically[9] sovereign and raiders from the western side of their realm are known to cross their breadth to attack the lands to their east, and vice versa. To the east is the Principality of Samtskhe, a vassal of the Kartvelian kings whose lord is eying up Trapezous with increasing brazeness. To the north-east is Kartvelia itself, which has been weakened by internal disputes for several years but is still standing strong under Giorgi VIII. In the Black Sea are the Venetians and Genoese, who both view Trapezous as a prize cut to be fought over.

    And to the south and distant west lie the Ottomans, who have recently repulsed the collective efforts of Central Europe at Varna and are now turning their attention to polishing off the statelets that had been freed from their rule by Temur-i Lang, Trapezous chief among them….

    [1] ‘Latin’ was the Byzantine term for all Catholic Europeans; For their part, the Latins called the Byzantines Greeks.
    [2] For the sake of accessibility, I’ll be referring to certain locations and historical figures by the Latinized names. Apologies to the hardcore karthavousists out there.
    [3] Kartvelia and Kartvelian refer to the Kingdom of Georgia. I live in the United States about an hour’s drive from the state of Georgia, so I’m using these terms for my own sake.
    [4] Commander of the navy
    [5] ‘Qara Qoyunlu’ literally means ‘Horde of Black Sheep’
    [6] Literally ‘Horde of White Sheep’
    [7] Trapezuntine succession was semi-elective, with the heir apparent being chosen from amongst the many ranks of Komnenoi princes or, on occasion, sons-in-law.
    [8] This is the Point of Divergence; Alexandros will never reconcile with his brother as he did OTL.
    [9] Here meaning ‘sovereign in a manner such as proscribed by the Treaty of Westphalia’, which is considered to be the definition of modern sovereignty.
    Part I: The Battle of Kapnanion (1447-1449)
  • Eparkhos

    Part I: The Battle of Kapnanion

    For the better part of a century, Shi’ites in Iran had congregated in the plateau town of Ardabil. The Safavi family, well-known sufi mystics, had first come to Ardabil in the 1320s as the Ilkhanate was collapsing in on itself. For many years they had practiced there, creating a center of art and learning amongst the dry terrain of that region and imbuing a deep respect for their dynasty amongst their courtiers and subjects, be they natives or from as far abroad as Yemen or Africa. But, as always, this positive change was perverted for the personal advancement of an ambitious man. This man was Sheikh Junayd, the fourth sheikh of the Safavi. In 1447, he ascended to this office after his father’s death and set about converting the latent influence of his dynasty into concrete military strength. His murid[1] corps was swiftly organized and began raiding against the eastern bands of the Qara Qoyunlu, whom he believed were sufficiently distracted by the Aq Qoyunlu. Unfortunately for Junayd he was wrong, and in early 1448 Jahan Shah appeared before Ardabil with a large host. The moderate Safavis, who had never been happy with Junayd, immediately surrendered the city. As Junayd and the murids fled out the western gate, Jahan entered through the eastern gate and appointed the former sheikh’s uncle, Ja’far, as sheikh.

    With their home lost to them, Junayd led his followers westward into Armenia, where they lived like bandits and were continuously driven further eastward by bands of Turkmen who resented the threat to their (mis)rule of the Armenians. Finally, hungry and exhausted, the exiled Safavis arrived at the Pontic mountains in late 1448. As they had journeyed, they had frequently heard of the richness of Trapezous and its environs, of how it was a city of gold and spices where even the poor were monstrously fat. They had also heard of the misfortune of the Trapezuntines, of how they had no army to speak of and were considered weak by even the most feeble of the Turkmen tribes. With few other options, the sheikh decided to roll the dice. In the spring of 1449, he declared the God had appeared to him in his sleep and told him to drive the infidels from Trapezous and establish righteous rule in the great city. Cheered by this message from the heavens, the murids eagerly followed Junayd across the mountains into the Trapezuntine empire.

    They met little resistance. Ioannes IV was more worried about renewed Genoese aggression than any threat posed by some band of jumped-up cultists that had gotten their teeth kicked in by a bunch of Turkmen savages. As such, he had delayed calling the men of Pontos to arms out of fear of angering the various landholders of the region or, more respectably, causing a famine. Trapezous and her environs had been troubled by several minor foot shortages during previous years due to mudslides and slave raids carrying off many outlying farmers, and given his already unpopular position Ioannes was cautious about creating a potential ‘sign from God’ that he needed to be overthrown. However, this left him with no time to prepare his men in the slightest when he was forced to rush them to arms after word of Junayd’s approach reached him.

    The Skholai--who were, after all, nominally professional soldiers--were both understrength and under-capable, their ability having been dulled by years of palace life. This forced Ioannes to rely upon the mustered footmen who were, as aforementioned, woefully unprepared due to his hesitancy to muster them without cause, and affix his flag to a mess of unruly and inexperienced militiamen and a handful of Genoese mercenaries whose loyalties were suspect. Well, more suspect than mercenaries’ loyalties usually are. Nonetheless, when the Trapezuntine army mustered in the capital in mid-April 1449 Ioannes was confident that he would soon be victorious. After all, the Turks had done it, and if they could do it why couldn’t the superior Ponts? And so, some 1,500 sons of Trapezous went to their deaths.

    Junayd and his followers entered Pontos through one of the eastern passes, moving through a small pass girded on either side with cliffs of dizzying height. After crossing the mountains they had descended onto the narrow coastal plain and gone east, intent on taking Trapezous. They had been halted at the small fortress of Athena (Pazar), however, due to the fortress’ excellent location and the unexpected ferocity of the defenders, whose homes would be despoiled and their families slaughtered or worse if they were to fail. This bought enough time for Ioannes and his army to arrive via sea, landing just east of Athena on 2 May. Junayd withdrew inland to avoid an encirclement, swinging eastward to appear at Ioannes’ flank. The emperor, inexperienced in the ways of war, gave chase. After several days of skirmishing, the Safavis finally gave battle near the small village of Kapnanion. Ioannes was confident in his victory, as there were only five hundred or so Safavis, and because of this he met the enemy on grounds of his own choice, always a mistake.

    Junayd made his stand on a small ridge within sight of the sea, barren except for a small forested ditch at its peak. The Safavis were entirely light footmen, unarmored and armed only with bows and swords. The Trapezuntines, on the other hand, had at least some armor and were armed with a mixture of bows, axes and spears. As the battle began, Ioannes arrayed his men in three columns, with his most heavily armored men in the center and the more lightly armed men in the flanks. He advanced directly up the hill, seemingly unaware of why this was a bad idea. Junayd’s men peppered their opinions with arrows and darts, the Trapezuntines finding it difficult to defend themselves due to their difficult footing and their tightly organized formation. The Trapezuntines were also having a hell of a time shooting back, both due to their bad position and the fact that many of the inexperienced soldiers had left their bows strung in the camp, which had resulted in them being ruined by the fog. After half an hour of slow advancement, the Trapezuntines finally reached the peak of the hill. Here, the weight of numbers and the heavier nature of the Trapezuntine force began to make itself apparent, and in spite of their devotion to their Viceroy-of-God, the Safavis began to waver. Ioannes sent his left flank forward, hoping to turn the Safavi flank and encircle them.

    However, as the left advanced beyond their comrades and began to turn, another wave of Safavis rushed up from the far side of the hill. The fresh fanatics slammed into the Trapezuntine flank and hurtled them back, the tired Ponts offering little defense to the murids. With their left being pushed back down the hill, the already tired Trapezuntines began to waver. Victory was still close, however, and Ioannes detached the Skholai, who were in the rear of the center, to go and reinforce the left. However, the sudden absence of the elite troops panicked the rear ranks of the center, and in panicked shouts many of them proclaimed that Ioannes had taken the best soldiers and fled the field. This was patently untrue--Ioannes was himself in the thick of the fighting--but given the coup-prone nature of the Empire many soon believed the Skholai had in fact left them to die. This caused the Trapezuntine morale to collapse because if the officers were panicking and running because of some secret, imagine how any of the footmen would fare? The wavering turned into a route, with the rear ranks of men turning and fleeing down the hill. The sudden absence of the men behind him caused the middle ranks to turn and flee, followed by the front ranks. Within minutes, the entire Trapezuntine army had routed, all running towards the sea and the ships there. The Safavis gave chase, hacking down dozens of men as they followed their enemies down the hill. Ioannes, realizing the battle was lost, galloped away with the Imperial standard, ending any chance of a recovery.

    Ioannes was forced to ride his horse into the sea to escape the disaster, being pulled aboard one of his galleys. Most of the army, however, was not so lucky. Only a few dozen men escaped to the fleet, with most being butchered by the Safavi or drowned in the surf. The battle was a complete Safavi victory, with Ioannes fleeing back to Trapezous with his tail between his legs. The Safavis followed, most of the garrisons fleeing into the mountains with their families after the battle.

    In late May, Junayd appeared before the walls of Trapezous. While he had been victorious, he had lost more than a quarter of his force in the battle and was thus unwilling to take any risks. As such, upon viewing the great walls of the capital, he knew that he could not take the city by force. Even if he were able to starve them out, his men would be insufficient to even garrison the city. Instead, he went about as if he were going to conduct a siege, erecting a camp and digging siege works. Then, on the third day, he sent a messenger to Ioannes and demanded a vast sum of tribute. The emperor, by this point thoroughly cowed, meekly agreed.

    A few days later, Junayd and his followers departed with a massive train of tribute, making their way south into the lands of the Aq Qoyunlu, after which they vanished from history. The tribute was no small fund, but the greatest loss to Trapezous was not the tribute payment but rather its prestige. Across the Caucasus and beyond, the Trapezuntine army was now mocked for its cowardice and inability, with an anonymous Latin mercenary even advising the King of France that the city could be taken with fifty knights. No where did this message ring more clearly than Genoa, where a certain exiled prince appeared before the Doge shortly after word of the battle arrived….

    [1] Translates as either ‘Slaves to the divine’ or ‘Those who are happy to die’, I have conflicting sources
    Part II: Hail, the Conquering Prince Comes (1449-1450)
  • Eparkhos

    Thanks, I hope you enjoy it!
    Interesting, looks like Trebizond will have uphill battle to keep alive.
    Definitely. Although it does have a favorable geographic position, which will make things less bleak than they could be.
    We will watch wour wareer with great interest !
    Wow! It's here earlier than I expected.

    Long live Trebizond, the Heirs to Roma!
    This is different. Subbed.
    Well this is something entirely new. How the Empire of Trebizond will survive against the Ottomans or the other Turkmen confederations is going to be very interesting, to say the least. Subbed.
    Trebizond really got its worked cut out for them.
    It was really a shame Alexios I got super unlucky. Hopefully his descendants can regain the Black Sea coast at least. Watched.
    Seems like a really tight spot to get out of. Wonder how they'll do it. Im thinking a coalition of sorts will have to be formed and aimed at The Ottomans for any of the minor powers to stay alive.
    Already watched; this scenario had a great potential.
    The Trapezuntines will definitely have a rough road ahead of them. I hope you'll enjoy that story.
    Can't really say I saw that coming. Loved the update.
    Great Stuff! Here I thought I was reading a Trebizond wank instead got the equivalent of Ned Stark's head being chopped off, right in Season 1.
    Gonna follow this one for sure.
    Would you say it was a good surprise or a bad surprise? Genuinely curious.
    Nice battle. I was expecting the Trapezuntines to win the battle. It's interesting they didn't because it seems it's setting the stage for something important to come.

    Does this mean the Safavids will not come back? Interesting butterflies if that's the case...
    Oh no, this whole section was OTL. Junayd Shaykh died in exile in Anatolia, and the Safavids who conquered Persia were descended from Ja'far Shaykh. The butterflies come from the reaction in the west, particularly Genoa.
    It would seem Alexandros sees an opportunity to regain the Throne, although one should trust the Genoese as one should the Venetian, that is not at all.
    As always, there will be a balancing act between the two republics.
    Hail, the Conquering Prince Comes

    After being forced into exile in 1429, Alexandros Megas Komnenos had gone west to Constantinople. He spent several years living off of the charity of his sister, who at that time was the empress consort of the Palaiologian Empire, but in 1436 he ran afoul of one of the major court factions. Forced to flee for his life once again, Alexandros had gone to Lesbos, which was under Genoese rule. He had ingratiated himself with the Gattiliusos who ruled the island, eventually marrying one Maria Gattiliuso to secure an alliance with the lord of the island, Dorino. In spite of his many paideiac[1] skills, he had been unable to rouse the Genoese to his cause for several years, instead being left to languish on the Aegean island. However, his relations with the Gattiliuso secured him from several demands for his head, which were sent to the Genoese by both Trapezous and Constantinople.

    In 1447, this decade-long purgatory finally ended. David[2], the idiot brother of both Ioannes and Alexandros, had attacked the Genoese factory[3] at Caffa and nearly destroyed the city. This aroused the ire of the Doge, and Alexandros was summoned to Genoa in preparation for an expedition to place him upon his throne. He had only made it to Sicily, however, before he was ordered to return to Lesbos. Ioannes had paid a great indemnity on behalf of his brother, and the Genoese had abandoned their planned expedition. However, Alexandros had only been on Lesbos for a few more months before news reached him of the disaster at Kapanion. ‘Borrowing’ one of his father-in-law’s vessels, Alexandros made for Genoa once again.

    He arrived in late 1449, finding the atmosphere of the city violent. Many members of the vast Genoese merchant class had invested heavily in the Black Sea trade, which was already under threat by the Ottoman Turks. Trapezous had, at least nominally, been one of the great guaranteors of the security of this trade, and if they had nearly been destroyed by a host of brigands (as it was being reported in the West) then the entire region could be easily cut off. Amongst this anger there was also a great deal of avarice, as many saw Trapezous’ weakness as an opportunity to seize the city for themselves and vastly increase their city’s wealth. Both sentiments were expressed heavily amongst the oligarchic families who dominated Genoese politics, and so Alexandros found himself having to compete with those who desired the outright annexation of Trapezous for military support.

    Alexandros appeared before the Doge and his council on 27 August. His exact speech has been lost to history, but the later chronicler Giogiorgios records the broader notes of his message. The exiled prince first spoke of the great difficulties which beset the Trapezuntine Empire, and of how they would be an unreliable ally for the Genoese were his brother to remain upon the throne. He cited David’s raid on Kaffa, Ioannes’ incompetence at Kapanion as well as an attempt to make an alliance with the Venetians that Ioannes had made nearly a decade previous. He then began to spoke of the riches of Trapezous, the Jewel of the Black Sea, and of how the Genoese would gain immensely from reducing it to a tributary. However, he warned, its distance and wealth meant that it would be impossible to administer except by appointing a captain[4]. This captain would have immense power and would send whichever family he hailed from into the stratosphere, so to speak. As such, a direct acquisition of the city would horrifically upset Genoese domestic policies, in such a way that it may prove more of a hindrance than a help. Instead, he said, the best policy for the Genoese to adapt was to install him upon the throne; he would pay tribute and act in all ways in accordance with the Doge’s desire, thus enriching the republic without endangering it as a direct accusation would. He needed only a small force to unseat his brother, and once this was done all the riches of the Black Sea would be given over to Genoa. Evidently, the council found his speech persuasive, and they recommended to the Doge that Alexandros be given his force. Lodovico di Campofregoso, the sitting Doge, agreed.

    While Alexandros had Genoese approval for his campaign, the Italians still wanted plausible deniability in case things went wrong. As such, instead of directly providing Megas Komnenos with a fleet and soldiers, the Genoese instead gave him a lump sum of money with which to hire mercenary soldiers and ships. Over the next several months, he assembled a force of a dozen ships--a mixture of merchantmen and ‘privateers’--and a motley army of Genoese crossbowmen, other Italian mercenaries, some Provençal knights, and a number of exiled Greeks. The total force came to six-hundred and fifty men, all of varying loyalties. Alexandros put out from Genoa in late October, making a harrowing passage of the central Mediterranean and reaching Lesbos[5] in December. Here, Alexandros’ fleet was reinforced with five Lesbian galleys and several dozen Gattiliuso retainers, among them two of his brothers-in-law. After waiting for the fierce winter winds to die down, Alexandros’ force put out from Mytilene in late February.

    The exiled prince’s force arrived at Trapezous in early April. The passage had been difficult, with the fierce storms of the Black Sea making an unseasonal recurrence and forcing Alexandros’ fleet to make an unexpected landfall at Sinope to avoid sinking. Ioannes had been aware of his brother’s approach, but had been unable to muster an army to meet him. Most of Trapezous’ population despised their current monarch due to the numerous failures of his reign, and the men sent out into the countryside to muster militia ‘disappeared’, many of them voluntarily. Ioannes was also unable to raise a mercenary host, as the Genoese had explicitly ordered their soldiers not to take any contracts with the Trapezuntines, the Kartvelians were engrossed in a civil war and the Turkmen were more interested in plundering the Trapezuntines rather than defending them. As such, Ioannes was left with few options other than barricading himself inside the city citadel with a few loyal guards. However, this did not mean that he did not attempt to prepare for his brother’s invasion. The megas doux, who could tell the way the wind was blowing, had taken the entire Imperial fleet out on a pirate-hunting expedition as soon as news reached him of Alexandros’ expedition, and Ioannes attempted to recall him several times. With this failing, he then armed several merchantmen in the harbor to act as a makeshift fleet; they also fled. Finally, he mustered the city watch--who were more akin to a police department than an army[6]--and sent them to the walls.

    Alexandros’ force entered Trapezous itself on 2 April. With no fleet to oppose them, Alexandros’ force sailed directly into the harbor. After dealing with a few particularly stupid guardsmen, the city watch disbanded, allowing him to quickly secured the port and began unloading his followers directly on the quay. They then fanned out through the city, securing the lower town in less than an hour with only some sparse skirmishing with a few militiamen. The upper town and citadel were separated from the lower town by a narrow causeway, and it was here that the first real fighting broke out. The Trapezuntines were outnumbered, but they had the better position and were fighting in defense of their homes, whereas the mercenaries were fighting for money. The morale of desperation allowed the Trapezuntines to hold the causeway for more than an hour, but in a lull in the fighting Alexandros appeared in the gap between the armies. Unarmed and unarmored, he strode out from amongst the ranks of his men. He appealed to his brother’s loyalists, speaking of the need for a united Trapezous to resist the many outside threats who circled around their blessed kingdom. Ioannes was an incompetent who endangered all of them and their families, and remaining loyal to this môme was a worthless errand. Stirred by his speech, many of the Trapezuntine forces threw down their arms.

    The rest of Ioannes’ loyalists then withdrew into the citadel, which was the most heavily fortified part of the city and designed to resist attack from all directions, both from outside the walls as well as from within the city itself. As such, rather than attempting to assault the fortresses Alexandros instead drew siege lines. After two days of siege, a defector contacted Alexandros and offered to surrender the citadel in exchange for clemency and a high court position. Alexandros agreed, and the next day a wave of his men rushed in through the opened side gate. Following a final round of desperate fighting, the city had fallen completely to the new emperor. Ioannes was killed outright in recompense for his assassination of their father, while David was blinded and then extradited to Genoa, where there had been a bounty on his head ever since his Caffa raid.

    Alexandros was crowned as emperor on 6 April 1449, with his wife and seven-year-old son Alexios also being crowned upon being summoned from Lesbos after the empire was secured. The rest of the Imperial family was secured in the palace, both to prevent their flight and thus potential claim to the throne as well as securing a massive supply of hostages for Alexandros in case of civil war. By the end of the month, he had secured the entirety of the Trapezuntine Empire--Ioannes had never been terribly popular--and had assumed all the necessary offices of government. He resumed the previous tribute payments to the Ottomans, as well as beginning his promised payments to the Genoese. The latter payments were lower than the initially agreed upon amount, with Alexandros blaming the discrepancy upon pirates acting in the Aegean. The Genoese grumbled about this, but were unwilling to foot the bill for another expedition against the Trapezuntines. That is, other than a small expedition launched by a minor family that went down in one of the Black Sea’ infamous storms.

    I’ll leave it here for now. Tomorrow, we’ll go over the beginning of Alexandros’ reign in detail, and the massive changes that the new emperor brought about….

    [1] Paideia was the Byzantine art of speaking
    [2] To be completely frank, a good portion of the blame for the fall of Trapezous itself can be placed squarely at the feet of David Megas Komnenos and his various short-sighted programs.
    [3] ‘Factory’ was the contemporary term for a colony.
    [4] The use of ‘captain’ here refers to a semi-hereditary governor, not the ‘captain of the populace’, which was one of the many titles of the Doge.
    [5] For the sake of professionalism, I will not be making any Lesbian/lesbian puns
    [6] Even then, they were less akin to a modern police department and more the thief-takers of 18th Century London


    As always, thanks for reading.
    Part III: The Alexandrian Army (1450-1459)
  • Eparkhos

    This part is covering Alexandros' military reforms and programs; His domestic policies will be covered in the next section


    Part III: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

    The Trapezuntine Empire that Alexandros inherited was one that was in a truly horrible position. As previously mentioned, Trapezous was surrounded on all sides by states with varying degrees of hostility, and the Trapezuntine army was a pathetic, disorganized mess. To even take the throne Alexandros had been forced to offer servitude to the Genoese, a move which delegitimized him by default amongst many of his subjects and emboldened the usual destabilizing elements across all Byzantine and Byzantine-derived states. He had few, if any, ties with the landed aristocracy, who were a perennial problem, while the church viewed him with open suspicion due to his time in the west. To secure himself and his realm, Alexandros would be facing an uphill battle against innumerable opponents, both domestic and foreign.

    His first step was to act against his brothers’ supporters, who were the most likely to attempt to counter-coup him in favor of one of his extended family. As Ioannes had been supported primarily amongst the large land-owners, Alexandros set off on a campaign of breaking up the plantations and distributing the land to the Lazic lower classes, in many cases just turning around and giving the land to the serfs who already worked it. This angered many amongst the upper classes and sparked a chain of assassination attempts (Alexandros dodged the knife three times and lost six food tasters between 1450 and 1455), but it never spilled over into civil war due to a general lack of soldiery.

    Alexandros also moved against this problem as well. Trapezous had long been crippled by manpower problems, as its small size and inefficient agricultural system (which we will cover next time) meant the basileus always had a hell of a time getting men together for campaigns both foreign and domestic. To resolve this, Alexandros attempted to revive the theme system, or at least enact a system similar to it. The new group of land-holders, as well as pre-existing small holders across the country, were grouped together in districts called ‘bandons’, which in times of war would be mobilized into units of two hundred men per bandon. To ensure that the bandons actually did as they were intended too, Alexandros instituted a policy of crushing taxes for this new group of farmers, all of which would be relieved if they provided a single male member of the household in times of war. The new farmers, surprisingly, actually took to this policy rather well. In attempting to create a ridiculously crushing tax code, Alexandros had inadvertently reduced the total loss of many of the farmers, as the pronoiai had induced almost farcical levels of indemnities to keep their subjects poor[1]. This both caused the size and strength of the bandons to increase rapidly, while ingratiating many amongst the lower classes to the new basileus.

    At the head of each bandon was the moirarch, who was appointed directly from Trapezous and was charged with drilling the bandon during times of peace and leading it during times of war. Many of the moirarchs, who were often mercenaries from Italy or Greece, were barely fluent in Greek and didn’t understand a word of Lazic--to be fair, Lazic is notoriously difficult for westerners to pick up--and so Greek became the language of the army by default. The western origin of the moirarchs also had a sizeable impact on the training and capability of the bandons, as the Italian mercenaries introduced the new, post-Crecy military doctrines of western Europe, which emphasized the training of infantry as a counter to superior cavalry. Because of this, the bandons were trained with a rigor and regularity that was unmatched in the region. Several sources attest that every man in the formation was expected to be able to fight ‘proficiently’ with the bow, spear and axe. They were also expected to fight in and rapidly move between five different formations, unfortunately only one of which has survived to us[2]. This may seem excessive to us, or even impossible to orchestrate, but remember, these were medieval farmers--they had a good deal of down time between planting and harvest, and all of this training was strung out over several years. The long-term impact of the bandon system was that it allowed the Trapezuntines to mobilize (comparitavely) large numbers of men with great speed to produce an army of high (for a non-professional force) quality.

    The bandons were not the only military reform, however. Alexandros took a leaf out of the Muslim world’s handbook and created a force of slave soldiers. ‘Freed’ from Italian or Muslim servitude in a series of raids on the slave ports of Crimea and Circassia, these men were put through exhaustive drilling and training, once again by Italian mercenaries, and enlisted in the armies of the aftokrator. If they survived fifteen years of service, they would be given land and native brides to farm and establish families. While still slavery, this was still a far better deal than they would’ve received anywhere else, and so these freedmen were very loyal to Alexandros and his dynasty[3]. The eleutheroi, as they were called, were established as a hybrid guard/field regiment, consisting of ten bandons garrisoned in Trapezous and the lands surrounding it[4]. Alexandros also tended to the pre-existing pronoiai system, which furnished the Trapezuntines with heavy cavalrymen on the relative cheap. However, they had a tendency towards disloyalty and often refused to take orders from those who they considered their lessers. As such, Alexandros divided his cavalry forces, inviting the Goqoyunlu (see below) to settle in the thinly-populated eastern borderlands and forcing the pronoiai to compete for their positions as chief cavalry officers. This prevented revolt, but it can be argued that it hurt the empire in the long term by kneecapping the domestic cavalry.

    The Trapezuntine navy was also refurbished and expanded during Alexandros’ reign, having long languished under the previous emperors. Alexandros’ network of spies in the Ottoman Empire informed him that the Ottoman navy was almost comically small, numbering only thirty or so galleys[5], and he resolved to surpass that number and thus establish superiority at sea. Using the vast Trapezuntine trade income, he laid down forty ‘oared transports’ over the first six years of his reign, supplanting the sixteen galleys already in Imperial service. To further strengthen his navy, he purchased several dozen cannons from Italy for use on both land and sea, a move that could have helped prolong the life of the Palaiologian Empire had they not been so set in their ways. By 1459, the Trapezuntine navy numbered more than fifty galleys and two dozen transport ships, vastly outnumbering any potential enemy armada other than that of the Genoese themselves. The old megas doux, who had fled at the first sign of combat, was summarily executed and replaced with an experienced captain named Konstantinos Psarimarkos[7]. Psarimarkos took his new force out on a series of pirate-hunting campaigns across the Black Sea, both as experience-building exercises and dry runs for attacks on Ottoman seaports.

    Alexandros then turned to his realm’s tenuous diplomatic position. While the Empire had nominal protection from the Genoese, Genoa was a long way away and, worse yet, on the far side of the straights. As such, Alexandros turned to his immediate neighbors in an effort to secure his position. In 1451, he made an alliance with King Giorgi of Kartvelia, betrothing his young son Alexios (b.1439) to the Kartvelian princess Keteon (b.1442) to secure it. Giorgi was beset with domestic enemies, however, and Alexandros was forced to bankroll a force of mercenaries in one of these rounds of civil wars. This nearly caused the alliance to collapse, but Giorgi was able to stabilize his position, execute his opponents and become the undisputed lord of the western Caucasus. Alexandros made alliances with Aq Qoyunlu and Qara Qoyunlu, the two bickering Turkic hordes that dominated Mesopotamia and Armenia. As previously mentioned, neither of these hordes were integrated states, with the many clans and bands of Turkmen that were nominally part of them often paying only lip service to the beylerbeys. However, they were still formidable opponents, and so Alexandros endeavored to sway them to his cause. In 1455, he married his niece, Theodosia, to Uzun Hasan of Aq Qoyunlu and in 1456 he married another one of his nieces, Eirene, to Jahan Shah of Qara Qoyunlu. The Qoyunlus both pledged to protect the Trapezuntines from the Ottomans, although their intention of actually doing so was suspect, to say the least. They also took the opportunity to rid themselves of troublemakers or syncretic[6] tribes by dispatching them to serve Alexandros as the Goqoyunlu. Finally, Alexandros made a secret defensive alliance, with the Venetians promising to come to the Trapezuntines’ aid in case of a Turkish invasion, and vice versa. The Venetian incentive for doing this was Trapezous itself, as the Doge calculated that this would be the best way for the Venetians to annex or establish a puppet regime in the distant city.

    Finally, Alexandros began fortifying the eastern borderlands with the Çandarids/Ottomans. This region had some of the roughest country in Pontos, with the Paphlagonian and Pontic mountains mingling together and producing a series of sheer valleys and dense forest that would make any offensive campaigning difficult in the extreme. Alexandros constructed several rings of fortresses along important valleys, at multiple points on strategic roads and in isolated valleys. The former were to prevent troop or supply movements along the rivers, the hinter to control strategic roads and force any invaders to string out their forces in a series of small sieges, and the latter were to act as bases for bands of irregulars. Alexandros’ plan for any conflicts with the Ottomans was to force them to move slowly across the frontier along pre-scouted positions that would leave them exposed to constant harassment by bands of Trapezuntine irregulars. Their supply lines would also be ripe for the plundering, given how the difficult terrain forced them along narrow, isolated paths through the forests and hillsides. Ideally, the Ottomans would either be so exhausted by these constant attacks that they would either pull back or be so exhausted by the time they reached Trapezous proper they could be easily defeated in battle. To further this goal, he also assigned the garrisons of these forts various defensive tasks, such as destroying forage to hurt Ottoman cavalry, scattering bands of caltrops to delay troop movements, felling trees to impair roads or cutting out sluice channels to wash out roads in heavy rain. Finally, he readied the Goqoyunlu to range out onto the Anatolian Plateau and try and incite a Turkmen revolt by attacking isolated Ottoman outposts as well as attacking herds of stock and grain fields to further extend Ottoman supply lines.

    That wraps up Alexandros’ preparations for war, now let’s move on to his domestic policies….

    [1] This sounds bizarre, but by the end of the Trapezuntine Empire the pronoiai had reached a similar state to their Palaiologian counterparts a century previous, where they taxed their hapless subjects at rate three to four times their actual taxes for personal gain.
    [2] This formation, know simply as ‘Formation Gamma’, was as the following; The first rank numbered 125 in ranks three deep, with the rear rank numbering 75 in ranks two deep. The left-most and right-most 25 men in the first rank are armed with axes, the first line of the first rank is armed with bows, while the rest have spears.
    [3] This sounds bizarre to the modern reader, but this was apparently a common occurrence in pre-modern history.
    [4] All of this is taken directly from Byzantium’s Resurrection: A Second Alexiad. Credit to @Eparkhos.
    [5] Following The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300-1650 by Halil Inalcik. Butterflies mean that Zagan Pasha is never appointed Kapudan Pasha and thus never expands the Ottoman fleet.
    [6] Many of the Turkmen were only nominally Muslim, with many either retaining their old Tengri beliefs or adopting the beliefs of their Armenian subjects
    [7] No relation to a certain general
    Part IV: Keeping the Trebizond (1450-1459)
  • Eparkhos

    @Noblesse Oblige, @Paschalis Constantinople did indeed fall in 1453, but under slightly different circumstances. Butterflies killed Constantine XI back in the 1440s, and it was Demetrios who was killed with the fall of the capital. The big butterfly from this is that Thomas Palaiologos is able to unify the Moreans behind him as a Venetian vassal, meaning that the Morea is still under Greek rule.
    It would 100% move to Constantinople. The City despite it not being a capital city in today's day and age, still is one of the most strategically significant cities in the world. While Ankara is the capital of modern Turkey, Istanbul still is its largest city. In the hands of a proper functioning state, unlike the 15th Century Roman Empire (which was a rump state not even able to maintain itself), Constantinople is a very potent resource and weapon. Constantinople is basically the bridge between Europe and Asia as well, so its the jewel in the Balkans.

    Michael VIII gets a bad rap for neglecting the Eastern possessions for Constantinople and Europe, but people don't understand how much of a tough situation Michael was in. If he didn't make that hard choice there likely wouldn't have been an Empire. Western Christendom had rallied around Charles of Anjou, the newly crowned King of Sicily at the time who readied a massive army. Charles had the desire and means to launch a full-fledged crusade against Michael in order to restore the Latin Empire. Michael had to spend large sums of the roman treasury and divert a lot of his focus into diplomatically isolating/maneuvering around Charles. This unfortunately was at a bad time as the Turks were mounting a huge offensive against the Romans.

    I honestly feel bad for the Romans as no matter who would have been in charge, they would have still been between a rock and a hard place at that time. Though Andronikos III later made a decent attempt to save the Empire's eastern Anatolian possessions.
    The Trapezuntines will move their capital back to Constantinople eventually, but I haven't decided how long it will take them to reconquer it. For the immediate term, Trapezous' largest set of strong borders is Paphlagonia and Pontos down to Koloneia.
    Since it was decided the army isn't quite up to snuff, and the Venetians have been planning to go war with the Ottomans. I think it might be better to blood the men overseas. Basically have the Venetian-Ottoman kick off instead of a direct war. Trebizond still isn't quite ready but it will be.

    Will probably be hilarious when the defensive pact kicks in. If Trebizond ends up performing so well the Genesee and Venetians are forced to grudgingly accept or give them more respect, all the better. Future support for a bolder, militaristic actions fromTrebizond from both republics would be justified or given more thought.
    The Trapezuntines will make a good showing of themselves in this war, although this is pretty much a necessity, as the small size of the empire means that they can't survive anything otherwise.

    Sorry for the late post, I kept getting pulled away from writing and I haven't built up a stockpile yet.

    BTW, the first person to guess what the title is referencing gets a cookie and my undying respect.
    Part IV: Keeping the Trebizond

    Trade was the lifeblood of Trapezous. The joint product of markets from halfway around the world, goods and traders coming from as far afield as China and Spain to trade in the chief port of the Black Sea. The enormous revenues derived from this trans-continental trade had buoyed the fortunes of the Megas Komnenoi, keeping their empire functioning and them upon their throne. Given his desired slate of reforms and repairs, Alexandros was fully conscious that it was only by careful manipulation and, God willing, expansion of Trapezous’ great mercantile wealth that he could keep his realm alive and well.

    One of his first actions upon taking the throne was appointing his brother-in-law, Mario Gattiliuso, as emporarkh[1]. This office was instituted in the Chrysobull of 1450, with the express intention of allowing the aftokrator to gain more direct control over foreign trade. The emporarkh--or, more accurately, the office of the emporarkh, which includes all of his assistants and underlings--replaced one of the emperor’s secretaries as overseers of all foreign trade within the Empire. All foregin merchants who wished to trade within Trapezous would have to register with the emporarkh’s offices, disclosing their goods and purchases to be taxed (more accurately, tariffed, but that sounds weird) according to an intricate code. This of course made trading with the Trapezuntines a pain, but with few other alternatives most merchants agreed after some grumbling.

    There was of course, a minor problem with smugglers. With legal merchants now subject to the exhaustive tariff code, many opted not to trade legally. The black market of Trapezous, which had always been a problem for the aftokrator[2], boomed in the first years of the 1450s. Alexandros’ first response--athalricizing[3] anyone caught trading illegally--failed to stem the problem, as even this horrific fate wasn’t enough to dissuade many from taking their shot at the riches of illegal trading. As such, Gattiliuso was permitted to enact a series of reforms which were codified in the Chrysobull of 1453. Under the Italian’s program, traders would no longer be treated on an individual basis, instead being categorized by polity of origin. The most significant trading partners--in this case meaning ‘every duchy, kingdom, khanate or emirate between Gibraltar and the Himalayas’--were offered lodgings and protections for ambassadors to oversee the actions of their subjects in the city. This, while rather expensive, did much to curtail the activity of smugglers. Previously, Latin traders, who were the source of much of the problem, had only had to contend with the consequences of their actions in Trapezous itself. Now, they would be punished both in Trapezous as well as back home, with the possibility of their families suffering as well. This, combined with another round of athalricizations in early 1454 and Psarimarkos’ pirate hunting campaigns, reduced smuggling to a tolerable level.

    With trade successfully organized and exploited to its maximum potential, Alexandros then turned his attention to his domestic economy. Like most of the world during the 15th Century, Trapezous was an agriculture-centric state that produced and consumed most of its own foodstuffs. The primary Trapezuntine exports were wine and hazelnuts, which were both produced in abundance in the Pontic foothills. However, a state cannot function off of wine and hazelnuts alone. The staple crops for your average freeholder or paroikoi were barley, in the mountains and hills, or rice, along the coastal lowlands. The latter crop was held in much disdain by Alexandros, for a variety of reasons. Foremost was because of his campaign to prepare for war. Rice was grown entirely along the coastal lowlands, albeit in an ‘upland’ i.e. paddy-less fashion. This meant that in any invasion scenario, the rice harvest could be easily destroyed, which would plunge the lowlands into famine and make the conduction of any defensive campaign extremely difficult, if not impossible. The cultivation of upland rice was also a massive drain on the Trapezuntine economy and manpower reserves. Because there was no water to smother any competing plants, upland rice fields required constant tending to prevent them from being overrun with weeds. This meant that rice fields often required two to three times more laborers than a barley field of similar size. In spite of this, rice was still the dominant foodstuff in the lowland due to a combination of inertia and ignorance. As such, Alexandros set off on an effort to convert the production of the lowlands from rice to barley.

    It was actually quite simple. He ordered the purchase of a great deal of barley from Egypt, then exchanged it for the rice at a ratio of 2:1. The peasantry were uneducated but not stupid, and so they leapt at the opportunity to enrich themselves at Alexandros’ expense. Within two years (1454), the lowlands had transitioned almost entirely from rice to barley, with the ratio of farms planted with them shifting from 26:1 to ⅙:1. This increased the total agricultural production of the Trapezuntine Empire at large as well, resulting in the Pontic state becoming a net grain exporter, selling off a great deal of its barley surplus to the Genoese. However, a good amount of it was cached and stored up, publicly on the off-chance of a famine but truly in case of war with the Turks.

    Alexandros also enacted a reform in the more obscure areas of metrics and numismatics. The Chrysobull of 1455 reformed both the Trapezuntine system of weights and system of currency, neither of which had been altered since Alexios I’s reforms all the way back in 1092. The metric reforms are too obtuse and, quite frankly, didn’t have enough of an impact to go over in depth, but the numismatic elements of his reign are rather important. The creatively named gold neahyperpyra was the most valuable coin, with a purity of 23.5 carats and a weight of 5 grams. This was smaller than the old hyperpyron, but the increased purity meant that it was far more valuable. The neahyperpyra (nh) began being exchanged at the ratio of 1:1 ¼ to the Venetain ducat[4]. Beneath the neahyperpyra was the argyrovasilike (av), a silver coin that was similarly 23.5 carats silver and a weight of 2.5 grams, and the khalkovasilike (kv), an alloy coin that was 60% copper and 40% silver and a weight of 1 gram. Their conversion ratio was as follows: 1 nh : 6 av ; 1 av : 10 kv; 1 nh : 60 kv.[5]

    By the summer of 1457, Alexandros had spent a great deal of money on cannons, gunpowder and the men to build them. As such he resolved to cut out the middleman and create his own domestic cannon and gunpowder production centers. Taking a leaf from the Hungarian’s book, he invited a number of skilled workers from the Holy Roman Empire to settle in Trapezous. Three groups took him up on the offer. The first and largest was a group of nearly fifteen hundred Thuringians from the towns of Suhl, Zella and Mehlis, who had come down on the wrong side of a succession dispute and wanted to get out of dodge as soon as possible. The second large group was some six hundred Saxons who had been members of a collapsed smithing guild and, like the Thuringians, wanted to get out of dodge. The final group was several dozen Burgundian gunsmiths and their families who were lured by the promise of Imperial salaries. Alexandros settled The Thuringians and Burgundians in Trapezous, sending the Saxons (who absolutely hated the Thuringians, and vice versa) to the secondary port city of Kerasous (Giresun). Both groups got to work constructing foundries, but due to construction delays only two foundries had been completed, both in Trapezous, and these had produced all of one cannons. Nonetheless, it was a step in the right direction.

    Finally, Alexandros went to work on the tax system. Tariffs and taxes on trade remained the same, but everything else was heavily altered. Agricultural taxes for everyone who was not in a bandon were heavily raised, to either force them into the militia or make sure they contributed equally, if in different form, to the state. Taxes on herding, on the other hand, were dropped almost entirely. The primary herding centers of the Trapezuntine Empire were in the mountains, and Alexandros wanted to foster as much good will with them as possible, as they would be the first line of defense in case of Turkish invasion. Taxes on fish production were also changed, altering from payment in currency to payment in kind. This was because fish, unlike many types of grain, could be stored for years on end and thus would make a better reserve in case of siege.

    In summation, the domestic policies of Alexandros’ reign focused almost universally upon preparations for war with the Ottomans. These decisions and their ramifications would prove to be of utmost import, as over the course of the 1450s a storm began to brew over the Black Sea. An Ottoman and a Hungarian army met on a field in distant Serbia, resulting in a close Hungarian victory. The Sublime Porte’s many enemies, scenting blood in the water, struck en masse. Anatolia and the eastern seas would soon run with blood, as one of the greatest wars in history began….

    [1] lit. ‘ruler of the businesses’. More figuratively, it means ‘overseer of commerce’.
    [2] After 1284, the Trapezuntine Emperors referred to themselves not as ‘basileus’ (lit. ‘king’) but rather as ‘aftokrator’ (lit. ‘he who rules alone’). For those of you who read my previous timeline, this was caused by the Akropolitoi affair of 1282, which culminated in Planoudes and his comrades being stripped naked and forced to walk back to Constantinople.
    [3] This is the most extreme punishment recorded in Byzantine law. The subject of this punishment was whipped raw, then tied to a platform in the public square. They first had their fingers severed with a hacksaw, then their hands, then their forearms and then their arms up to their elbow. Their nose was skinned and then severed, after which the same was done to their legs. They were then blinded and left on the platform for three days in excruciating agony. Finally, they were set on fire and burned to death, which no doubt was a mercy. This punishment is recorded for only two individuals in Byzantine history, those being the perennial rebels Basil the Copper-hand and Ioannes the Athalricist.
    [4] The ducat weighed 3 ⅜ grams. This means that the neahyperpyra was held in high enough regard that it traded with the ducat on a weight basis, which was no little feat.
    [5] One neahyperpyra was equivalent to six argyrovasilike, one argyrovasilike was equivalent to ten khalkovasilike.
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    Part V: The First War of the Holy League (1459-1462)
  • Eparkhos

    Part VI: The War of the First Holy League

    Over the course of its meteoric rise, the Ottoman Empire had made a laundry list of enemies. The Italian republics of Venice and Genoa had both been expelled from some of their most lucrative eastern markets, serious blows to the mercantile states. The Danubian principalities of Wallachia and Moldova had both been reduced to tenuous servitude, while the great Hungarian Kingdom had been nearly driven over the Danube, only clinging on south of the river at Beograd itself. In Asia, the once numerous Anatolian beyliks had been reduced in number and size until only the once-mighty Karamanids and Çandarids still remained. The Greek rump states--the Despotate of the Morea, under de facto Venetian rule and the distant Trapezuntine Empire, under Genoese protection--both glowered resentfully against the Turks, both knowing that many of their countrymen still labored under the Turkish yoke. In the far east, the now-unified horde of Aq Qoyunlu also resented the Ottomans, seeing themselves as rightful hegemons of the Turkmen world. Finally, the crusader states of Rhodes and Cyprus both saw the destruction of the Ottoman Empire as their God-given quest. As you can see, by 1460 the Ottoman Empire’s many enemies were more powerful than the realm that they despised. It was only a matter of time until these enemies made common cause against the Sublime Porte….

    The spark came in Serbia. The Hungarians, led by their king Janos I Hunyadi[1], had been campaigning against the Serbian Despotate, hoping to expand Hungarian rule south of the Danube and secure his hold on Beograd. The Serbian Despotate was nominally a vassal of both Hungary and the Ottomans, and so Stepjan II[2] asked for aid from the Turks. Mehmed dispatched Ballaban Paşa, the sanjak bey of Ohrid, with an army of 25,000 to support the Serbs. Janos, meanwhile, was forced to cross back into Hungary to deal with a rebellion, leaving behind 15,000 men under his son Ladislaus. Stepjan and Ballaban met and combined their forces, marching on the Hungarian camp at Arandelovać. However, the Turko-Serbian army, numbering 35,000, was taken by surprise when Hunyadi’s army fell upon them in an ambuscade in the pass of Mount Rudnik. Ballaban Paşa was killed by a stray arrow in the first few moments of battle and without a leader the Turkish force routed, leaving 5,000 men dead on the field. Hunyadi pursued them as far as the Serbian border, but was unwilling to press the attack into the Ottoman Empire itself.

    The Battle of Rudnik was far from a decisive victory. Its true import came from across the Adriatic Sea. The previous year, Pope Pius II held a synod at Mantua and declared a crusade against the Turks, calling all of Christendom to arms against the heathens in a Holy League. It was met with a great deal of skepticism at first, with few actually taking up arms. But as news of Rudnik filtered west, many considered this ‘miracle’ victory as a sign that God was finally going to turn the tables on the Turks. The Venetians, who had long been at the brink of war with the Turks, openly declared war in the summer of 1460. Their archrivals, the Genoese, also declared war a few months later, citing a build-up of Turkish forces opposite Lesbos as evidence of a planned invasion. With the two great Italian republics at war, many other Christian states began to follow. Wallachia and Moldova both threw off the Turkish revolt and crossed the Danube in the latter half of 1460, while the King of Sicily began preparations for an invasion of Greece the following year. Dozens of other smaller states sent out knights and footmen on the various paths to the east as well. Most notably, Skansderbeg, the lord of Albania, resumed his war against the Turks.

    Mehmed, of course, did not take this lying down. He dispatched an army under Zagan Paşa to attack the Venetian and Morean holdings in the south of Greece while he himself mustered an army to meet the Hungarians and Wallachians. Zagan’s army numbered some 15,000 men, while Mehmed’s force numbered more than 50,000. However, Mehmed failed to account for the small size of his navy, which was curb-stomped by eight Venetian and Genoese galleys off of Tenedos in September 1460. Over the winter of 1460-1461, even as the Ottoman forces marched to war, the Aegean was an Italian lake, with dozens of coastal cities both large and small being taken by amphibious assault. Few if any of the locals held anything other than seething hatred for the Turks, and so the Ottoman governors had difficulty putting together forces to expel the Italians.

    In the spring of 1461, Zagan Paşa and his army finally arrived in Greece, having been delayed in chasing off a Genoese attack on Thessalonike. He was unable to cross to the Negroponte[3], and so the Paşa turned his attention to the Morea proper. Thomas Palaiologos had ruled under Venetian protection since his brother Demetrios had been killed defending Constantinople back in 1453, and he had spent his entire rule preparing for war with the Turks. First among his preparations was the Hexamilion, a wall stretching six miles across the Isthmus of Corinth. Thomas poured every last cent he had into expanding and increasing the Hexamilion[4]. By 1460, the Ottomans found themselves facing down a complex of walls, with a series of earthen berms interspersed with thick, tall walls defended by men who had seen the Turks despoil countless homes and would be damned if they let them do the same to their homes. Even after several weeks of bombardment and assaults on the Hexamilion, Zagan Paşa was unable to take the wall and retired back into Boeotia. However, he did not retire fast enough, and in mid-July the Venetians landed an army of 12,000 men under Sigismondo Malatesta, a noted condottiere. On the shores of the Kopais Lake[5], Malatesta routed the Turks, personally killing Zagan Paşa and then riding down the exhausted Ottoman soldiers. Following the Battle of Kopais, the Venetians and other forces (a mixture of Genoese soldiers, rogue mercenaries and native revolts) rolled the Ottomans out of Greece, pushing to within sight of Thessalonike before being halted by a counter-attack.

    As all of this was raging in Greece, Mehmed himself took the field in northern Rumelia[6]. Wallachia and Moldavia were the first targets, as their revolt could cause a chain reaction that saw all of his vassals break away. The Danubian armies were commanded by two great leaders, Vlad Dracula and Stefan the Great, and if they were able to unite they could very easily form a serious threat to Ottoman control in Bulgaria. As such, Mehmed took a leaf out of the Byzantines’ book and tried to split them by intrigue. By means of spies he persuaded Stefan the Great[7] that Vlad Dracula would attempt to usurp his principality even if they were victorious, and with a great amount of bribes and a promise of clemency in the event of Ottoman Victory, persuaded Stefan to withdraw back across the Danube. This left Vlad Dracula outflanked, and after a few weeks of skirmishing, he too withdrew back across the Danube, albeit after impaling several thousand Turkish prisoners on the south bank of the river as warning to the Turks. Mehmed then turned his attention westwards to Serbia, where the Hungarians had been joined by Sicilian and Papal armies, as well as a motley force of Crusaders from across western Europe. The coalition was making its way towards Constantinople at a slow pace, with concerns over leadership and supplies meaning that the Crusaders had only advanced as far as Niš by mid-autumn. Seeing this as an opportunity to defeat his opponents indirectly (the combined Crusader force outnumbered the Turkish host 3:2), Mehmed sent a number of irregulars north-west to attack the Latin supply lines, while he himself swung around to block their path forward and drive the Venetians back from Thessalonike.

    This latter mission was at least partially successful, with Malatesta withdrawing back into Thessaly. However, with this avenue of expansion cut off, the Venetians sealifted Malatesta’s force across to the Hellespont in the spring of 1462. By this time, Mehmed was preparing to meet the Crusaders in the Balkan mountains and couldn’t spare any men to drive off the Italians. Fearing that the Venetians would take the straits and attack Constantinople itself, which was barely defended as-is, he sued for peace. The Venetians were ceded everything south of the Thessalian mountains as well as any islands or ports they had taken in Europe or the islands, as were the Genoese. The two Italian republics immediately began to feud amongst themselves, freeing up Mehmed’s forces to meet the Crusaders in battle.

    Speaking of the Crusaders; They were having a hell of a time. This was less due to any enemy action (the irregulars in Serbia were a pain, but not a serious threat as they were being continuously resupplied by sea) and more due to the internal problems that beset every crusade. Janos of Hungary and Ferrante of Sicily scrapped over every decision to be made, with the papal legate having to run interference between the two everytime a decision of import was made. MEanwhile, all of the minor crusaders, many of who were veterans of the ongoing wars in the HRE and France, were running havoc, pissing off the locals and destroying supply depots before they could be fully captured. Over the winter of 1461-1462, the Crusaders wintered west of Sredets[7], and the conflict between the two kings finally came to a head. Pope Pius dispatched another legate with orders to excommunicate Ferrant if he didn’t shut up and follow Janos’ lead, which he did after no little amount of grumbling. Having finally established a unified command, Janos brought the Crusaders together following his long-term plan. The Crusaders would strike into Thrake, aiming directly for Constantinople and thus forcing Mehmed to face them on the field of battle. Janos was confident that his veteran soldiers would be victorious, as Mehmed’s armies had already been worn down by the previous years of constant warfare.

    The crusaders took Sredets after a brief siege in the spring of 1462, opening up the road to Constantinople. As they descended into the Evros Valley, the Sultan marched to meet them. Mehmed had intended to spend the winter training new soldiers and reinforcing his tired host with garrison soldiers from Anatolia, but this had proved impossible due to the unfolding crisis in the east. There was also the slight problem of Skanderbeg, who had fought through the Balkan mountains to the plains surrounding Thessalonike, and had to be driven off by another Turkish army. The Albanian host still lurked somewhere in the mountains, and Mehmed was forced to leave a not insignificant host behind to defend the strategically vital city. As such, he was unprepared to fight the Crusaders when he was forced to intercept them at Haskovo, in May 1462.

    The Crusaders had camped outside of the Ottoman fortress in late April. It was a large and imposing fortress, dating back to the Second Bulgarian Empire itself, and needed to be taken to secure the road to Constantinople. Mehmed, seeing this as an opportunity to envelop the invaders, marched to meet them. However, the city surrendered before the Turkish host arrived, leaving the Crusaders to turn and face the Turks with their full strength. When the battle was joined, Mehmed’s force numbered some 45,000, with some 10,000 cavalry and 10,000 janissaries in that number. The Crusader army numbered 60,000, with about 15,000 knights and the rest being footmen. Morale was tepid on both sides, with the Turks having it the worse. Privation in their winter quarters had undermined the morale of both armies, and many soldiers in both hosts just wanted to go home.

    Battle was joined on 20 May 1462. Hunyadi adopted a defensive position on a ridge facing northwards, with a series of irrigation ditches between him and the Turks. The footmen were arrayed in three ranks, with mounted knights on the wings and dismounted knights and men-at-arms in the center. The few cannons with them were arrayed in triangular formation to give them the most cover. Hunyadi planned to meet the Ottomans with his full force, allowing them to attack the center while his flanks swung around to encircle them. Mehmed, on the other hand, arrayed his forces on open ground. His plan appeared to be to attack the Crusaders at a distance with his ranged forces and wear them down, then bait them into a charge across the ditches towards him where they would further be worn down. Finally, the Ottomans would meet the attacking Crusaders in a phalanx and crush them. This latter plan wasn’t….great, which has led many historians to speculate that Mehmed was affected by some sort of brain fever.

    The battle began a few hours after dawn. Both armies’ skirmishers clashed in no man’s land, causing a few casualties before withdrawing. Mehmed’s archers and arquebusiers then advanced and opened fire. However, due to their range they had little impact on the Crusader ranks. Hunyadi gets an idea and orders the center to pull back a few dozen feet. This baits the Ottoman archers into advancing across one of the irrigation ditches, and the crusading knights then rush down the hill. They catch the Ottomans halfway across the ditch, ripping into their rear ranks. Mehmed rushes his men forward to cover the retreat of his valuable arquebusiers, which Hunyadi mistakes as the Turks advancing to close ranks. He orders his line forward and the Crusaders rush towards the canal. Mehmed sees them advancing and realizes that his line will be shattered by the sheer weight of the charge if he doesn’t act quickly. He rushes his men forward to the lip of the embankment, where they form up again. The two lines close shortly after noon. The fighting quickly devolves into a single giant scrum. In the chaos of the battle few of the heraldic crests of the Latins are visible, and many of the knights are killed by their fellow crusaders in the chaos. The only visible signal in the mess of mud and gore is the yellow of the janissaries’ robes, and so the Latins push towards that. The sky, which had been fairly cloudy, darkens completely while the two armies clash. The air is filled with screams and cries of dying and maimed men and the rush of arrows and the roaring thunder of cannons and arquebusiers and the sound of metal scraping against metal and blades slamming into shields and above it all the sound of metal piercing flesh. The muddy ground is soon choked with blood and bodies, impossible to stand on and even more difficult to move across. Wounded men are trampled by steeds, fallen knights and sipahis are dragged from their saddles and horses stampede across the country, panicked by the cacophony of pain and death. The more heavily-armed Latins start to push the Turks back, but then Mehmed appears, standing in his saddle and rallies his men. The battle once again degenerates into a chaotic free-for-all, swords and spears and axes flying like windmills. By this point the archers have exhausted their quivers and have joined the fray with daggers and awls, anything that can be used as a weapon. A square of pikemen, the Black Army of Hunyadi itself, starts to push forward through the chaos, but a rumor of Hunyadi’s death causes them to panic and flee, only being rallied by the appearance of the king himself. The primary mounted wings slam into each other and roil towards and away the ranks, with the Latins gradually pushing back the Ottomans. Finally, as dusk comes and what little visibility there is vanishes, the two armies withdraw back to their camps.

    The Latins have lost nearly 25,000 either killed or wounded, with nearly 3,000 of those being knights. The Turks have lost 20,000, including nearly the entirety of the janissary corps. The survivors of both armies are exhausted. Both Hunyadi and Mehmed were confident that if battle was joined, they would be victorious, but were afraid that doing so would lose them most of their armies. Both had pressing issues back home--Hunyadi had to deal with Austrians encroaching on the Burgenland and Mehmed had to deal with the ongoing crapstorm over in Anatolia. As such, they both sued for peace.

    The negotiations and agreements surrounding the treaty are too complex to go into here, so I’ll just skip to the end points: Mehmed would end the vassaldom of the Danubian Principalities. Hungary would annex Serbia all the way down to Kosovo. The Ottomans would cede everything in the mountains west of the Struma to Skanderbeg’s Albania. The Despotate of Epirus would be restored to the Orsinis under Sicilian vassalage. Thessalonike and the surrounding lowlands all the way to Kavala would be given to the Sicilians. Note that none of these indemnities were financial--Mehmed was willing to give up terrain, which could be retaken later, but not money, which he actively needed.

    After concluding the peace, the Crusader army dispersed back to their various homelands and/or cessations. Ferrante oversaw the subjugation of the lowlands around Thessalonike, while Hunyadi returned to Hungary, leaving behind a small host under Ladislaus to pacify his new conquests. Meanwhile, a group of Dutch crusaders occupied Sredets and the surrounding country, as it had been omitted from any of the negotiations and was thus technically conquerable. Vlad Dracula and Stefan the Great, meanwhile, continued their campaigns in Bulgaria against the Ottoman forces there.

    Mehmed, meanwhile, finally turned his attention eastwards. Anatolia was burning, both literally and figuratively, and it would take all the Sultan’s might to put it out.

    [1] Butterflies result in Hunyadi becoming king in his own right in 1447
    [2] Here, Stepjan II means that he was the second Serbian king names Stepjan. Many previous Serbian rulers adopted the title ‘stefan’, but not the name ‘Stefan’.
    [3] Venetian name of Euboia
    [4] The Hexamilion was a wall across the isthmus of Korinthos that had been constructed by Manouel II. It was captured and pulled down by the Turks under Evrenos Bey several times in the 1410s, but was reconstituted under Constantine XI
    [5] The Kopais Lake was a large lake in central Boeotia that has since been drained.
    [6] Rumelia was the Ottoman term for the Balkans
    [7] Not yet the great; Mehmed focussed his efforts on Stefan as Vlad Dracula hated Mehmed on a personal level because the Sultan had repeatedly raped his brother, Vlad Radu
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    The Balkans after the Treaty of Haskovo, 1462
  • Eparkhos

    Balkans after Peace of Haskovo, 1462.png

    Brown - Kingdom of Hungary (+Croatia and Serbia in Personal Union) (Janos I Hunyadi)
    Bright Yellow - Wallachia (Vlad Dracula)
    Dark Red - Moldavia (Stefan II)
    Dark Green - Ottoman Empire (Mehmed II)
    Orange - Duchy of Sredets (William van Borssele)
    Red - Kingdom of Albania (Gjergi Kastiori)
    Light Green - Kingdom of Thessalonike (+Sicily and Aragon in PU) (Ferdinand de Trastamara)
    Light Yellow - Despotate of Thessaly (Mihailo Angelovic)
    Grey - Despotate of Epirus and Cephalonia (Giovanni del Braza Orsini)
    Purple - Empire of the Morea (Thomas I Palaiaologos)
    Aquamarine - Republic of Venice (various)
    Pink - Republic of Genoa (various)
    Light red - Knights of Rhodes (various)
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    Part VI: An Old Tiger (1460-1465)
  • Eparkhos

    Part VI: An Old Tiger

    The Karamanid beylik had ruled in southern Anatolia for more than two centuries, ever since their founders, a minor Azeri tribe, had migrated into the region in the chaos following the Battle of Köse Dağ. Over the following years, they had carved out a niche for themselves in the thunderdome that was the dying Seljuk Sultanate, cementing themselves as overlords of the lands between the eastern mountains and the western lakes. They defeated a score of Seljuk and Mongol invasions in the late 1200s and early 1300s, and for a time it appeared as if they would re-unify the plateau. However, a row of bad luck saw the Karamanids lose their edge, and they were left to sit impotently as the Ottomans eclipsed their realm. The invasion of Temur-i Lang in 1402 should have given them a new lease on life, but indecision and internecine strife prevented them from returning to their heights of power. A series of brief wars with Ottomans saw the Karamids pushed into the far east, with their backs to the mountains. Only a promise of protection from the Mamluks kept them from being swept into the dustbin of history, and for the next thirty years they hobbled on as a dying state, beset with internal problems. But as the Ottoman Empire began to struggle and was then decisively defeated in Europe, the bickering dynasts of the region put aside their differences and seized the opportunity to revive themselves. The Karamids may have been an old and moribund realm, but as the ghazis who had found their realm once said, “There is nought more dangerous than an old tiger, for as he senses his end he becomes most fierce and is filled with a determination to die fighting….”

    In the 1460s, the Karamanid Beylik was facing down a prospective civil war. Bey Ibrahim II had ruled since the 1420s, and with his death one of the great statesmen of the beylik’s history would pass forever into history. Ibrahim had been the one who had preserved his inheritance as similar states were absorbed into the lands of the Sublime Porte, and it was he who had reorganized the Karamanid army after decades of neglect. It was hardly a strong force, but at a standing 10,000 horsemen strong[1] it was still a decent deterrent. However, Ibrahim now found himself having to use it against one of his own sons. He had named his firstborn son, Işak, as his heir apparent, and this had caused one of his other sons, Pir Ahmet[2], to rise in revolt in the far north of the beylik. Pir Ahmet had secured the support of a good number of Turkmen bands, and he was now preparing to march on Konya. Civil war was imminent and it seemed that Ibrahim’s life’s work would go up in smoke.

    But then, word came from the east. An army of crusaders had invaded Rumelia, and the Italians had also declared war against the Sublime Porte, laying siege to the Dardanelles themselves. Ibrahim called for a truce between his sons, the three men meeting at Karaman in the winter of 1460-61. The bey proposed the following; They would attack the Ottomans in Anatolia, drive them into the sea and then partition their conquests between them. Both of his sons would become as rich as caliphs, and any bloodshed between the brothers would be prevented. Both Işak and Pir Ahmet found this reasonable and agreed. Ibrahim mustered all the men of Karaman to arms, convening a host of 40,000 horsemen at Konya that spring. After some conversation, Ahmed the Red, the Bey of the Çandarids was invited to join them in this campaign. Ahmed bore a personal grudge against Mehmed II[2] and so agreed, adding another 20,000 men to the coalition. In May 1461, the two hosts crossed the frontiers of their respective polities, beginning an undeclared war with the Ottomans.

    Before the war begins in earnest, I’m sure many of you are wondering why the Karamanids and their ilk are confident that they can drive the Ottomans out of Anatolia altogether? After all, the Ottomans had begun their rise in Anatolia, so surely it was the beating heart of the empire, surely? No. As the Ottomans had pushed into Europe, they had neglected the poorer Anatolian regions that had first spawned them. As they moved further north and west, they transferred many of the most loyal Turkmen bands to Europe to help secure their new conquests, leaving Anatolia under the lackadaisical rule of a single governor, whose office was in Kutahya, in the western part of the region. This meant that the hard-living Turkmen bands who made up the majority of Anatolia were barely overseen, which gave them more than enough free time to develop resentment towards the Imperial government, who they regarded as having gone soft on their conquest spree. The wars in Europe, especially after the beginning of the First War of the Holy League, had seen many of the garrison forces in Anatolia transferred across the Hellespont to Europe. This left Ottoman Anatolia understrength, undersecured and anything but under control[3]. Ibrahim expected that he could rally the Turkmen to his cause and drive out the Ottomans wholesale.

    He very nearly succeeded. Over the 1461 campaign season, Karamanid and Çandarid horsemen ranged across Anatolia. As expected, the Turkmen quickly took up arms against the Sublime Porte, swelling the total strength of the allied force to nearly 100,000. Minor Ottoman garrisons were taken by surprise and either surrendered or were massacred, while the dozen or so major garrisons were surrounded and besieged. Ibrahim Bey and his army advanced as far as Kutahya itself, but were unable to bring the governor, Yunus Paşa, to battle. With no large Ottoman host to oppose them, the Karamanids and Çandarids swiftly overran all of Anatolia, bar only a section of Ioania along the Buyuk Menendres whose sanjakpaşa had managed to fortify and seal the passes leading eastward. Ibrahim enacted a policy of encouraging minorities, such as Greeks or Armenians, to revolt on the logic that it would cause the Ottomans more damage than it would them. Over the following months, the surviving garrisons were slowly worn down or starved out. By 1463, when a relief army finally arrived from Europe, only Kutahya, Ankara and a few coastal cities were still standing, the rest having been reduced to ash and rubble. However, this did little but fill Mehmed with a terrible resolve, and he swore that he would destroy the rebel beyliks and grind them into dust. He set out with his army to meet the Çandarids--who were the obvious weakest link--in the spring of 1463, moving overland into Paphlagonia.

    While all of this was going on, Trapezous was doing quite well. Alexandros’ reforms had enlarged the Trapezuntine army and improved its strength enough that the aftokrator no longer had to tremble at even the slightest movement of foreign states. Instead, he could act to advance his state as would any other monarch, something that Alexandros had every intention of doing to his greatest ability.

    The Trapezuntines had been co-belligerents in the War of the First Holy League, although neither members of the titular alliance or a party to the peace deal. After Genoa had entered the war, Psarimarkos and a number of Trapezuntine galleys had descended upon an Ottoman fleet at Eragli[4] and sent a dozen Turkish ships to the bottom with the loss of only one galley. They had then raided the Ottoman Black Sea, burning several dozen coastal towns and even briefly taking Burgas before being driven off by Mehmed himself. Hostility with the Sublime Porte had nominally ended at Haskovo, but Alexandros had no intention of giving up a march against such a deadly opponent.

    As the War in Anatolia raged on at a fever pitch, Alexandros began to move against his immediate neighbors. His first target were the Çanikids, a loose confederation of Turkmen tribes who lived in the western Pontic mountains. They had been a continuous problem for generations of aftokrators, as their raids into Trapezuntine territories had left the western edge of their realm depopulated and disloyal. Alexandros had never been able to attack them directly, even disunited as they were, as they were nominally vassals of the Çandarids. War with the Çandarids would make a coalition with them against the Ottomans (more accurately, throwing them into the Ottoman maw and hoping it would tire them out before they reached Trapezous) impossible. However, with the Çandarids now busy in the west, there was no one left for the Çanikids to run too. Alexandros mustered many of the eastern bandons, raising a host of 10,000 including the eleutheroi. He personally led this army westward across the no-go zone between the two realms in the summer of 1461. The Çanikids were evasive and were difficult to bring to battle, but the nature of the terrain meant that they relied on the coastal plain to graze their horses. After several months of cat-and-mouse, Alexandros finally caught them out at one of the regional capitals, Ordu. The Çanikids were massacred and chased into the sea, with the few survivors being reduced to slaves. Alexandros renamed Ordu as Nikoupoli and re-settled it with Greeks, while a program was undertaken to settle the newly-conquered land and incorporate it into the bandon system.

    After reducing the Çanikids, Alexandros then turned his attention south. The Çandarid advance had left the Ottoman far east intact, but cut off from the capital. More specifically, the lands of the Lykos Valley[5] had been completely cut off from outside help, and Alexandros saw this as an excellent opportunity to expand his realm at the expense of the Turks. In the autumn of 1461, a Trapezuntine army crossed the mountains through the central pass[6]. They went east along the mountains to the town of Paypurt (Bayburt), which was a large Ottoman garrison town. Not wanting to risk directly confronting the garrison, Alexandros instead laid an ambush. He selected a hill nearby to the city gate and concealed his troops behind it. He then sent a small force of horsemen to attack the gate, then ride away as if routed. The Turks gave chase and pursued them across to the hill and partway up it. As soon as they were sufficiently winded, Alexandros gave the signal and the Trapezuntines rushed out from behind the hill, overwhelming the Turks. They then raced back to the city and took the gatehouse, after which the city surrendered. It was too late in the campaign season to move on, so the Trapezuntines wintered there. The supply situation was difficult, as the passes back into Pontos were frozen, forcing the Trapezuntines to live off the land. They survived the winter in good order, however, and were able to move on come springtime.

    The two other major cities of the Lykos valley, Koloneia and Neokaisereia (Koyulhisar and Niksar), respectively, both surrendered without a fight in early 1462. There was a problem with a number of irregulars and other skirmishers, which forced Alexandros to leave behind a garrison of several hundred men in both cities. In spite of this, the aftokrator pressed forward down the river all the way to the Black Sea, which was reached in late April. He declared victory in this campaign before embarking upon another the very same day. The Ottomans had conquered the Black Sea port of Amisos (Samsun) back in 1420, but its connection to the rest of the empire had always been tenuous at best. Now, with the Çandarids having overrun that small strip of land, the sanjak of the city, Iskender Paşa, was left in quite the predicament. After a great deal of deliberating, Iskender decided that the Trapezuntines were better rulers than the Genoese or even his fellow Turks. In June 1462, he swore fealty to Alexandros, retaining his position as governor of the city.

    Almost as an afterthought, the Trapezuntines also annexed the small Principality of Hamamshen later that year. Hamamshen was a small, isolated valley that had been independent since the collapse of the Bagrationi Empire all the way back in 790. The last prince, whose name has been lost to history, was given estates in the newly-conquered west while taxes were kept low in the two villages to keep popular resentment low.

    Ultimately, after several battles Mehmed and Ibrahim’s sons[7] made peace in 1465[8]. The war was an undoubted victory for the Karamanids and their allies, with the Ottomans being forced back to a coastal strip much resembling that of the Komnenian Empire. The Great Turkish War saw the balance of power in Anatolia drastically upset. Now it will be seen how Trapezous will handle this new balance of power….

    [1] That is, it had a permanent strength of 10,000. In times of war, this number rose sharply to 50,000.
    [2] Yes, really
    [3] OTL, Mehmed helped improve conditions in this region by rotating many of these Turkmen to the Imperial frontiers, which either enriched or killed them.
    [4] Known as Pontoherakleia before in the 1900s, but the Turkish name is more fitting
    [5] Kelkit River
    [6] There were three main passes across the Pontic mountains, one in the west, one in the east and one nearly directly south from Trapezous. This latter one corresponds to the modern E97 highway.
    [7] The bey himself died in 1463
    [8] There’s a lot I’m skipping over here for the sake of brevity. Uzun Hasan intervened on behalf of the Ottomans and annexed a good part of Karaman, then switched sides and annexed a good deal of Ottoman territory. The Karamanid Horde also split after Ibrahim’s death, but it wasn’t enough for Mehmed to turn the tide.
    Part VII: Succession (1465)
  • Eparkhos

    Part VII: Succession

    The reign of Alexandros I had seen the Trapezuntine Empire dramatically reformed and expanded. The power of the pronoiai and the palace corps[1] had both been significantly reduced by the institution of the bandon system, and the overhaul of the tax and tariff systems had greatly improved the economic situation of the pocket empire. The realm had also greatly increased in size, with Alexandros’ campaigns against the Çanikids and the Turks nearly doubling the empire. By all measures, his reign had been a great success. But like all things, it would not last forever. By 1465, Alexandros was on his deathbed, and the thorny issue of succession was rearing its ugly head. Many capable and successful Trapezuntines had seen their life’s work destroyed in wars between their sons, and now Alexandros must have wondered; Would he be one of them?

    Alexandros had a grand total of six sons, of whom five lived to adulthood. Of these five (Alexios, Isaakios, Manouel, Sabbas, Timotheos), two (Isaakios and Timotheos) had taken holy orders. As Manouel was both an idiot and a drunkard before his twentieth birthday, this left Alexios and Sabbas as the two likely candidates for the throne. Alexios was twenty-seven in 1465, and was married to Princess Keteon of Kartvelia[2], while Sabbas was twenty-three and was engaged to be married to Maria Asen Gavraina, the sister of the Prince of Doros. This latter marriage had been arranged only in 1464 to act as security for the planned re-unification of the two realms, one of Alexandros’ many diplomatic programs that wound up going nowhere.

    Alexios and Sabbas were almost like foils to each other; Where Alexios was usually calm and collected, Sabbas was short-tempered and irrational. Alexios was methodical in everything, inscrutable and always outwardly placid, while Sabbas was ruled by his passions, quick to anger but equally quick to forgive. Alexios was quiet and introverted; Sabbas was boisterous and social. Alexios was a poor and uninspiring speaker, while Sabbas, as Giogiorgios wrote a half-century later, ‘Could rally men to invade hell with him’. Most importantly, they were both capable generals, both having distinguished themselves in the war, in Limnia[3] and the Lykos, respectively.

    Given the turbulent nature of Trapezuntine politics, Alexandros spent most of his last days on his decision. Either of his two sons would make competent, if not great, leaders, but no matter whom he chose it was almost certain that the other would react negatively, possibly even sparking a civil war. The most expedient way of resolving this problem would be to blind one or the other, but Alexandros could not find it within himself to do so to either one of his beloved sons, no matter the danger to his hard-won advances. He could make them both co-emperors, but the odds of them actually getting along and working together for the good of the realm were slim to nonexistent. Supposedly, he even briefly considered adopting the western fashion of realm division and handing equal amounts of land to both sons, but the foolishness of this soon appeared to him. Trapezous was already in a tenuous enough position, and dividing it would only worsen its odds of survival. He could send one of them away with funds and soldiers to become a mercenary captain or adventurer, but that would just leave them as a threat, in the wind with a great deal of funds and soldiers. For several weeks, he meditated on this problem nightly, even as his wife, children (he also had three daughters) and priests gathered around him for what would surely be his last few days. Despite hours spent in prayer, he was unable to find any solace with the Lord nor an answer to his quandary. Evidently, this time of constant prayer and contemplation wore on him heavily, for he developed an unknown illness in late September and began having chills a few days later. Like King David, whom he had so admired, he was reduced to needed maids to lie against him at night to keep him from freezing[4].

    Then, on the night of 19 October, it came to him. He woke from a dead slumber and shouted for his attendants to summon Sabbas and Alexios, for the Holy Ghost had appeared to him in a dream and given him the answer to his prayers. However, as his sons raced across the city, the aftokrator collapsed into delirious raving. By the time the princes reached the Imperial bedchamber, their father was almost gone. He choked out part of a sentence before collapsing back onto the bed, chest heaving. With a final murmur of “Kanéna apó aftá den eínai alítheia.” Alexandros I died shortly after midnight on 20 October, 1465.

    Even before the proscribed period of mourning was over[5], Alexios and Sabbas had both demanded to see their father’s final testament, which was stored under the watchful eye of the Metropolitan Bishop, Konstantinos. On 24 October, after Alexandros’ body was ritually cleaned, the bishop finally presented the aftokrator’s will to his sons. As Alexandros had not had time to alter his will, Alexios and Sabbas were to become joint co-emperors, sharing all of the duties of the state between themselves. This accomplished the difficult task of infuriating both claimants without actually weakening either of them. After the reading of the will, civil war was not an if but a when, and both Alexios and Sabbas were determined to come out on top.

    Before the funeral even began, the brothers were sniping at each other, both metaphorically and literally. While out for a walk one day, Alexios was nearly shot by a crossbow-armed Laz perched on top of a nearby building. The would-be assassin killed himself before he could be apprehended, but Alexios had little doubt who the perpetrator was. Over the following week, five of Sabbas’ food tasters were poisoned, which in turn only worsened the cycle of violence. Determined to kill his brother, Sabbas sent a half-dozen assassins against Alexios in the first half of November. Most of them were stopped by Alexios’ guards, but two--another rooftop crossbowman who narrowly missed Alexios’ chest and a Turkish dancer who stabbed him whilst they were….being intimate--nearly succeeded in killing him. Alexios responds by hiring a gang of Turkmen to attack Sabbas while he is out for a hunt, which in turn nearly kills him.

    Things come to a head on 29 November, the day of Alexandros’ funeral. Both of the princes are in attendance, as the coronation ceremony would begin immediately after their father’s interment. However, neither of them was able to bite their tongue long enough to keep quite during the service, and as it drew to a close they broke into a shouting match over which one of them Alexandros had been going to appoint his heir before his stroke. This quickly turned into a flurry of insults and nearly descended into a brawl before their various partisans pulled the princes apart. As the two groups stormed out of the cathedral, Sabbas challenged his brother to a duel, right there, on the steps of the cathedral. Alexios, who was by far the worse swordsman, refused out of hand. This caused a riot, as Sabbas’ supporters began accusing Alexios and his supporters of being cowards, and Alexios and his supporters accused their counterparts of being godless brutes. The good old Pontic honor refused members of either group from allowing these insults to go unanswered, and within a few minutes the Neagustaion had degenerated into a brawl.

    Alexios’ partisans were the first to flee. The prince himself didn’t believe that he could hold the capital and so abandoned Trapezous proper, fleeing east along the coastal road to Kapnanion. He was in a worse position than his brother, as he did not hold the capital and was cut off from his primary source of support, which were the garrisons along the Lykos valley, by the frozen passes. Even as he called the eastern bandons to arms, he was doubtful that he could defeat his brother on the field of battle, as the eastern regions had yet to fully recover from Sheikh Junayd’s raid and would have been outnumbered by the western regions under the best of circumstances anyhow. Alexios’ plan was to wait for the passes to thaw, then cross the mountains to the Lykos, gather reinforcements there and then circle around to attack Trapezous from the south, splitting his brother’s forces. In case native soldiers weren’t enough to get the job done, he dispatched his wife back to her native country to plead for her father to send reinforcements to support Alexios.

    Sabbas, on the other hand, was more than confident that he would be victorious. After his brother was expelled from the capital, he set about turning the institutions to his cause. The bureaucracy primarily supported his brother--although no one was stupid enough to say it outloud--but the army was fully behind him, and the church could be turned fairly easily. One of his first actions was to make a series of large donations to the Metropolitan treasury, as well as sending an expedition westwards to Constantinople to ask the Ecumenical Patriarch to support his claim to the throne. He then began to turn the people of the capital against his brother, speaking of how he was the obvious successor due to his experience and valor, and of how his brother would ruin all of their father’s work if allowed to succeed. He also paraded out his other brothers as evidence of how the rest of the Imperial family supported him as aftokrator. Most importantly, he called the western bandons to arms, mustering a force of several thousand men. Many of these were veterans who had served under him before, and were thus both very confident in his leadership and extremely loyal.

    After a few weeks of preparation, he followed his brother east in early December. For a few days it seemed as if Sabbas would utterly crush Alexios and put an end to the civil war less than a month before it began. However, while on the road to Kapnanion, fate smiled upon the elder prince. A massive storm blew in off of the sea, forcing Sabbas and his army into winter quarters while they waited for it to pass. After the rains receded, the aftokrator advanced, only to find that the rain and ensuing mudslides had washed out nearly thirty miles of road. Sabbas set to work repairing the road, but it may have been enough to stall his campaign indefinitely. Indeed, there is the possibility that Alexios, who previously had been treed against the mountains, may be able to flee across the passes if the thaw comes before Sabbas does.

    Will Sabbas be able to catch his brother, or will spring come early and allow Alexios to escape across the mountains? Find out next time on The Undying Empire in Part VIII: The Brothers’ War…..

    [1] I’ll be using ‘the palace corps’ as shorthand for both the Skholaroi and the Amytzantarioi.
    [2] It’s possible that Keteon might actually have been named Katerine, but I’ll be using the former spelling for the time being
    [3] Liminia was the Trapezuntine name for the lands between Amisos and Ordu.
    [4] There was a reference to Alexandros’ respect of David that was cut from one of the earlier parts, sorry
    [5] At the time (and possibly still) Orthodox custom was to wait forty days to bury the deceased to allow relatives time to visit the body and, more importantly, allow the spirit to fully pass on
    Part VIII: The Brothers' War (1465-1466)
  • Eparkhos

    Part VIII: The Brothers’ War

    Through January 1466, 2,000 Kartvelians braved the harsh winter winds and snows that had turned the Caucasus into a frozen hellscape. They were sent by the king himself, with the knowledge that their families would be held accountable for their failure keeping many of them going even as their comrades collapsed from cold and exhaustion. Their purpose was clear; They would join the army of Alexios Megas Komnenos and install him upon the throne of the Trapezuntine Empire, or die trying. After a harrowing crossing of the mountains, the Kartvelians finally descended back into the (comparatively) less daunting Pontic landscape, arriving at Kapnanion in late March. Their arrival was fortuitous, for only a few days later battle would be joined between the two claimants.

    Sabbas had immediately set about clearing the roads after the storm abated, throwing the considerable (well, on a Trapezuntine scale) manpower of the western bandons into digging them out. The aftokrator was furious that a swift victory had been denied to him by calamitous fate, and so set every man to work. He himself even took up the spade, as he was determined to get through to Kapnanion and was willing to lead by example. Following two weeks of round-the-clock work that saw hundreds of trees burned to keep the exhausted soldiers and workers from freezing and several dozen men lost to frostbite anyway, the road to Kapnanion had finally been cleared. However, the loyalist army had been so exhausted by their struggle that Sabbas was forced to remain in camp for the better part of the following week to let his men recover. He wasn’t foolish enough to be angry at his men, but he was still in a foul mood that clouded his judgement while planning, which would have a large impact down the road.

    Alexios, meanwhile, was anxiously observing his brother’s advance while overseeing his own preparations. His plan was reliant on him escaping over the mountains to the southern border, but he was fully aware that Sabbas might reach his position before the passes thawed. As such, while his men were in winter quarters he put them to work constructing fortifications around Kapnanion. The frozen ground and all-around miserable winter conditions made construction a nightmare, but the resolve of doomed men kept them working at a similar exhaustive pace to Sabbas’ army. A berm was dug out on all sides of the city, which would both delay enemy advance as well as provide a makeshift moat if a concealed dike was pulled. A concealed ditch lined with spikes was then dug out, covered with the dense foliage of the Pontic mountains, on the closer side of the moat. Most importantly, the fortress of Kapnanion itself--which had been poorly maintained ever since the Safavis had sacked it nearly twenty years previous--was rebuilt and repaired, with the castellan stones being quarried out of the nearby mountains. All of this was rushed, given the short amount of time that Alexios had until his brother’s army made it through the pass, but it was enough to make an assault on the city a daunting prospect under the best of circumstances.

    The daunting proved to be enough to prevent Sabbas from assaulting the fortress. The army of the aftokrator finally advanced to Kapnanion in early march, having finally recovered from their exhausting labor. However, Sabbas arrived to find not, as he had expected, a demoralized force camped on exposed ground and weakened from the privations of the cold but instead a well-garrisoned fortress bristling with defenses. He was duly furious that such an easy victory had been denied to him and flew into a rage, ordering an assault that he then swiftly halted. After a few hours spent stalking back and forth at the head of his army, Sabbas developed a plan.

    The loyalist army camped in a semi-circle several hundred yards out from the trenches, with enough space between the two to form up in the gap. This accomplished its intended purpose of cutting off Kapnanion’s landward side. Then, the megas doux was summoned from Trapezous, putting out in late March after the winter storms had passed. Almost the entirety of the fleet had rallied to Sabbas and the few ships that had been crewed or commanded by Alexios’ supporters had either been captured or sunk on the rough seas. As such, Sabbas’ force was able to completely seal off Kapnanion from the outside world. This actually made one of Alexios’ previous decisions--back in February he had stood down several bandons and ordered them to return to their homes--surprisingly a good one, as he now had fewer mouths to feed. More importantly, it now meant that Sabbas had to divide his forces to deal with the irregulars who were harassing his camp.

    For the next few weeks, the siege of Kapnanion carried on as most sieges do. The besiegers made occasional probing attacks across the moat, losing several dozen men to the spike pits and caltrops, but were unable or unwilling to directly attack the walls. The defenders, meanwhile, watched and waiting on the ramparts and behind murder holes in case the enemy launched a surprise attack. However, unlike most sieges where the defenders were the ones who had to deal with the cold and a lack of supplies, these issues beset both armies. There had been a large host of men in the region since December, and they had slowly but steadily burnt through the locals’ food reserves. Both Alexios’ army, who had taken as much food into Kapnanion as they could, and Sabbas’ army, which was having to be resupplied by sea, were rapidly running out of foodstocks. This situation was worsened by another major storm that flooded much of the countryside and forced the loyalist navy to be beached for several days until the skies cleared (well, as clear as they ever get in Pontos). The heavy rain also caused a section of Kapnanion’s hastily rebuilt walls to collapse, as the sudden deluge ate away at the thin crust of mortar. This caused the only assault of the siege, as hundreds of Sabbas’ men rushed the fortress. Despite an initial advance, Alexios’ appearance amongst the ranks of the defenders caused them to rally, pushing the loyalists back after an hour of fighting. The failure of this assault caused morale to plummet in the siege camps, but Sabbas’ natural charisma and a few speeches kept mass desertions from happening. In spite of this, the aftokrator was now aware that he would be unable to take the city by storm and would likely exhaust his own reserves before his brother did. He sent an expedition back to Trapezous, with orders to take the cannons from the walls and bring them to the siege.

    Alexios, meanwhile, was in similar straits. Unbeknownst to the besiegers, the Alexian food stores had gone out three days previous, and many of the defenders had consumed nothing but boiled leather and rainwater for several days. Alexios was beginning to wonder if his best course of action would be to surrender in exchange for his children (Alexandros (8), Basileios (5) and Anna (2))[1] being given safe passage to Kartvelia. However, any thoughts of surrender were ended on 16 April, when lookouts in both Kapnanion and the camps spotted a gleaming serpent appear over the eastern horizon.

    Both the loyalists and the Alexians rushed to arms, the former forming up in their camps facing eastward while Alexios’ men formed up on the small strip of land around Kapnanion facing southwards. Seeing his enemy’s flank turned towards him, Alexios and his men splashed across the moat, losing several dozen men to the spike pits but hitting the loyalist line with great force nonetheless. The initial strike at their flank disorganized loyalist forces and pushed them back a great deal, and for several minutes the center was in anarchy as Alexios’ men pressed their advantage and bit hard into the enemy flank. Word reached Sabbas and he abandoned his position at the head of the army and galloped back to the center, pulling sections of his own center back to reform at a distance. The entire battle was chaos at this point, as the fighting had shifted into the camp itself, breaking up both armies’ formation. Any semblance of formation was now gone, with battle devolved to duels between lone men or groups of soldiers flinging themselves at each other. Corpses piled together densely amongst the tents and blood turned the cold mud into a bog. One of the loyalist strategoi, a Laz named Alexios Mgeli, took de facto command of the bandons that were west of the now-overrun camp and charged across the plain to Kapnanion, thinking to secure the fortress and cut the Alexians off from their lines of retreat. However, the sudden absence of the men to their left caused the remaining defenders of the camp to throw down their arms and route, stampeding through Sabbas and his reformed section in their rear. In the chaos, Sabbas was knocked off his horse and dragged beneath it, killing him. This went unnoticed amongst the chaos, for most of his men were either in route, with Mgeli or part of the few remaining formations in the front who were now being pinned down by the Kartvelian. Pinned down, mind you, as both were hungry and tired and weren’t especially eager to die. In spite of their hundred of mile trek across the mountains, the Kartvelian would never actually fight, just stand menacingly.

    With Sabbas dead, there was no one left to rally his men and Alexios’ supporters were now chasing the remaining loyalists from the field. However, he would not live to see his triumph. As his steed cantered across the field, it stumbled over the body of a fallen man (the common story that it was Sabbas’ body is almost certainly apocryphal) and threw him. Alexios’ neck was broken, killing him instantly. By now, the fighting had calmed enough that the shouted message that both Alexios and Sabbas were dead quickly spread through the ranks. With both of their champions gone, both sides quickly stopped fighting, not quite sure what to do. Many of their soldiers, considering their causes to be pointless, threw down their arms and began to fraternize with their former opponents. Eventually, both armies assembled in the bloody ruins of the loyalist camp, with the Kartvelians standing by. After some debate, they concluded that the best plan of action was to march back to Trapezous and install Alexandros, Alexios’ young son, upon the throne, something that the Kartvelians also supported. With Alexios Mgeli--the highest ranking officer from either of the armies still alive--at their head, the army departed back towards Trapezous.

    The losses from the Second Battle of Kapnanion and the civil war at large were immense, with more than two thousand men going to their deaths in the battle alone. As always, several hundred were also maimed, but the true losses of the war were the cold and illness. Nearly 5,000 men had frozen or died of illness or been killed by the warring factions over the winter of 1465-1466, a truly devastating blow for Trapezous. The pocket empire had a manpower pool of 35,000 at the very best, to cover both campaigns and garrisons. With one out of every six potential recruits either killed or maimed, the Empire had been exhausted by the civil war and was far weaker in December 1466 than it had been in December 1465.

    After arriving back in Trapezous, Alexandros Iunior was installed as Alexandros II on 11 May 1466. There were few who were opposed to his installation, as the general consensus was that further division would result in Trapezous becoming a shiny new province of either Kartvelia (at best) or one of the Turkish states (at worst). However, no-one could decide who the regent would be, and the realm was once again plunged into instability

    [1] Alexios had kept his children close to him, and they had been evacuated to the inland fortress of Ophos before the siege began.
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    Part IX: The Struggle for Regency (1466-1467)
  • Eparkhos

    Part IX: The Struggle for Regency (1466-1467)

    After the coronation of Alexandros II, the question that dominates the rule of all underage monarchs became a pressing problem. As eight-year olds aren’t exactly capable rulers, the boy aftokrator needed a regent to handle the day-to-day necessities of government until he came of age. Naturally, this position would be one of great power, and so the many court factions were unable to agree on who ought to assume the position. Even with the realm as exhausted from the Brothers’ War, another civil war was looming on the horizon as the question of regency was answered….

    The reign of Alexandros I had seen the two most prominent court factions, the Skholai and the Amytzantarioi reduced significantly in size and importance, but they were far from gone by 1466. By the reign of Alexandros II they had morphed significantly, with the Skholai becoming the faction of the Greek aristocracy and the Amytzantarioi becoming the faction of the Lazes. Obviously, this increased tensions between the two ethnic groups, and both factions were eyeing the regency as an opportunity to permanently subdue their opponents. The Skholai, being the party of the Greek aristocracy, saw this as especially important, as the reigns of Alexandros I and Sabbas had seen many Lazes advanced into positions of power, which could easily lead to the toppling of the Greek-centric government[1]. The Amytzantarioi, on the other hand, saw it as an opportunity to push themselves upwards and take the high positions they considered their right. These extra layers of conflict made the struggle for the regency more fierce than most conflicts over power normally were.

    The first of Alexandros’ regents was the Metropolitan of Trapezous, a Goth named Basileos of Funa. As an outsider, both factions believed he could be trusted to remain neutral until they were able to install their favored candidate as regent. These favored candidates were Isaakios Afxos of the Skholai and Andreas Lazos of the Amytzantarioi. Afxos was a cousin of the aftokrator and had spent several decades in both the army and bureaucracy, securing for himself a great number of loyalists in both institutions. He was a cruel but cunning man, short and balding. Lazos, on the other hand, did not have a long or distinguished career in either branch of government. Instead, he was a mercenary who had spent several years fighting across both the Caucuses and the Black Sea before returning home in the early 1460s. His vast wealth and military experience made him a promising candidate for the regency, and thus he was selected by the leadership of the Amytzantarioi. Both factions convened their supporters in the city in late 1466, as Funa would be forced to yield his control over the young prince at the beginning of the new year.

    Naturally, a mob of partisan opponents gathering in a fairly small area caused tensions to rise, and many of the more quick-witted Trapezuntine residents left the city in November and December. Their cautionary actions would prove to be fortuitous, as a series of brawls and street fights broke out in the market district in the first weeks of winter, as the areas of common interaction proved to be points of stress. These riots caused a great deal of damage to the city and her merchants, but the city watch and constabulary were unable to prevent the violence, as many of the perpetrators were freed from the various jails of the city by angry mobs of their compatriots. Any difference in the treatment between the two groups of partisans, no matter how small, was taken as evidence that the authorities were backing the other side. This put the city watch in an effective state of war with the two factions, with many partisans being arrested to no avail. Finally, after several weeks of conflict, the eparkhos, Thomas Komnenos Branas, threw up his hands and ordered his men to stop even trying to enforce the law. All of this infuriated Funa, as he considered the destruction done to his flock and their possessions as direct insults against both him, the church at large and God himself. As such, he began planning to deny the regency to either faction.

    On 7 January, the set date for Funa to abdicate the regency, both the Skholai and the Amytzantarioi assembled outside of the Hagia Sophia of Trapezous[2], where Funa was giving mass. For once , the mob was more focused on their mutual opponent than they were each other, with both groups chanting for Funa to hurry up and make his appointment. The bishop, now furious at the audacity of these rabble-rousers, stormed out in the middle of his sermon. He declared that neither Afxos or Lazos would be the regent, as neither of them were competent. Furthermore, neither of them had a legitimate reason to become regent, as they would have no cause to take the regency other than the backing of the mob. Instead, he would be abdicating the regency in favor of the dowager empress, Keteon. This aroused no little amount of shock, as Keteon had to date not been a major political figure, instead having retired to an obscure estate near Soumela. Supposedly, even Keteon herself was shocked by this when Funa asked her to return to the capital in late December. While she was far from popular amongst either group, this mutual unpopularity was enough to satisfy the leaders of both factions that she would be a neutral leader.

    Keteon’s period of sole regency was a tumultuous one. She had every intention of securing the best position possible for her son when he was old enough to rule alone, and so refused to make a number of large land concessions that were proposed by a number of both Greek and Lazic noblemen, which alienated many in the higher echelons of both the Skholai and the Amytzantarioi. While she had the backing of the church in the form of Funa, bothe bureaucracy and the army were filled with partisans of the court factions, and so she was unable to secure the needed pair of institutions to ensure her governance continued unchallenged[3]. This failed to daunt her at first, but as her tenure as regency dragged on she became fully aware of how vulnerable her position was.

    There no direct assassination attempts on her or her son, but many of her underling died under suspicious circumstances. All of these strange deaths were followed by members of the court factions clamoring to take their place, which led Keteon to reasonably assume that they had been behind them. She was willing to tolerate this to an extent at first, dismissing it as typical of court politics, but as these attacks continued she concluded that all of it was part of an attempt to unseat her. However, she was aware that keeping the delicate balance between the Skholai and the Amytzantarioi was necessary to keep one of the factions from establishing a monopoly on power, and so she hesitated to strike against either of them until she was sure which one was acting. She brought a number of personal supporters across from Kartvelia and scattered them across the court, with many of the more clever agents covertly entering the court factions. These agents discovered that the assassinations had not been the work of one particular faction but instead the product of infighting between both the highest-level factions and the smaller groups within the factions themselves.

    Most importantly, her agents uncovered a conspiracy in the army. The moirarkhs of several of the bandons closest to the capital were plotting to overthrow Keteon in favor of one of their own, Andronikos Palaiologos Kamateros. Kamateros and his co-conspirators were quickly arrested and blinded, but it revealed just how vulnerable the dowager empress' position was. Kamateros’ conspiracy had included members from both the Skholai and the Amytzantarioi in an unholy alliance, and she was unsure of how to treat the rest of the faction members. The highest-ranking members were rounded up and blinded, but Keteon knew that she could not carry out a purge of all faction members, as that would gut both the army and the bureaucracy. However, she could effectively insulate herself from further coup attempts by bringing the army around to her cause, and in late 1466 she did so.

    After leading the Trapezuntine army back to Trapezous, Alexios Mgeli returned to his old position of moirarkh of a Limnian bandon. He had spent the better part of the next year in quiet obscurity, continuing his pre-civil war life. However, retained one souvenir of his brief time as commander of the Trapezuntine armies, that being a healthy respect (some might even call it reverence) amongst many of the bandonoi, who regarded him as a hero for healing the division caused by the Brothers’ War and for leading his combined army back to civilization across the rough country of the Trapezous. Keteon was well aware of Mgeli’s popularity and his ability as a general, and so in September 1466 she sent a series of gifts and messengers to him. She offered to appoint him as commander-in-chief of the army and elevate him as a pronoiar if he would come out in support of her. After mulling over his options for several days, Mgeli made a counter-offer; In exchange for Keteon’s hand in marriage, he would use his considerable influence to crush any brewing conspiracies and rally the army to her. Keteon agreed.

    The dowager and the general were married in late October. This was not an unopposed marriage, as many members of the church--even several bishops--opposed this marriage, but the support of Funa and his partisans allowed it to carry on with little public protest. Mgeli held up his end of the bargain and outed several conspiracies in the army that had gone unnoticed, and the direct support for the regency on the part of the army finally quelled the more vocal agitators amongst the court factions. Alexios and Keteon got on fairly well, with a political arrangement quickly turning into a marriage of love. This, however, just caused more problems, as by the end of 1466 the regentess was pregnant. She gave birth to a son, Basileios, in July 1467, which spawned another crisis. Many supporters of the Komnenoi were concerned that the newborn child would supplant Alexandros II as basileus, as both the regent and the head of the army would have cause to depose him. It took several weeks for many of these partisans to be quieted, but in late July both Keteon and Alexios took a solemn oath, with Funa as their witness, to respect the right of Alexandros II to reign.

    With the issue of regency and succession finalized, the de facto joint regency is now tasked with ensuring stability, a difficult task in a land as tumultuous and isolated as Trapezous. It would prove to be fortunate that the regentess was now married to an experienced general, as the Trapezuntine Empire would soon be forced to raise the bandons once again….

    [1] The primarily urban Greek population was vastly overrepresented in government. Records from the Vazeplous Monastery show that in the eastern half of the empire, two-thirds of the rural population were Lazic or Armenian.
    [2] Many Trapezuntines considered this Hagia Sophia to be an extension of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, as it had been consecrated by the final pre-Sack Patriarch of Constantinople
    [3] Both historians and commentators then and now considered it essential for any Byzantine or Byzantine-derived government to have the support of two out of the three primary organs of state, those being the army, bureaucracy and church.
    Part X: Fish of Bronze
  • Eparkhos

    Part X: Fish of Bronze (1467-1468)

    The life of Ahmed ‘the Red’ had been a rough one. Born an illegitimate son of the Çandarid bey, he had had nothing given to him and been forced to struggle for himself since shortly after birth. He had accompanied the Çandarid host on multiple raids against the hated Trapezuntines and other Turkmen bands and beyliks, distinguishing himself by saving the life of a commander in battle on two occasions. His commanders repaid him by advancing him into the court of Sinope. He proved to be as excellent at the arts of court politics as he had at the art of war, and within a few years he had become one of the favorites of his unknowing father. Then, in 1461, he and his co-conspirators sprang upon the old bey and slew him in his sleep, advancing Ahmed to his birthright position. Then, taking a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he had rode against the Ottomans with the Karamanids, driving them all the way to Bithynia and expanding his beylik as had no other bey before him. However, the fires of ambition that had driven him to these heights are difficult to extinguish, and so Ahmed turned his attention eastwards in 1468, hoping to complete the ambition of every Çandarid bey and finally end the Trapezuntine Empire….

    In the spring of 1468, Ahmed mustered all the men of the Çandarids at Kastamonu. While time and overextension had taken their toll, the bey still had the support of an army of some 15,000 Turkmen, most of whom were veterans of the war with the Ottomans. Ahmed was, if not a great general, then still a competent one. He knew that the Trapezuntines outnumbered him by a good margin, and so he acted to split their forces. His grand plan was to send a force under one of his sons, Iskender, to ravage the Lykos valley and draw off Trapezuntine forces while he and the main force advanced directly on the capital. With the defenders’ force thus split, they could be defeated piecemeal and eventually besieged and forced to surrender. This was a solid strategy, and after a few weeks of final preparations, Ahmed put it into motion. Iskender departed from Kastamonu in late April, at the head of a host of 3,000 horsemen.

    However, while creating this plan, there was one factor Ahmed failed to consider; The Genoese. The Çandarid beylik was swarming with Italian merchants, who oversaw the transport and sale of various goods from across central and northern Anatolia, especially in the cities of Kastamonu and Sinope, which were a road hub and a major port, respectively. The massive troop concentration in Kastamonu had alerted more than a few merchants that something was up. The Genoese bailiff in Sinope, Giovanni Cablami, was able to piece together that the Çandarids were planning to make war against the Trapezuntines. As the Trapezuntines were still nominal vassals of the Doge, Cablami decided that it was his duty to alert them of the coming invasion. The Genoese galley reached Trapezous before the Çandarids even crossed the border, giving Alexios time to scramble together a response.

    Alexios Mgeli had been eyeing the Çandarids for war since before he was even betrothed to the regentess[1]. He had lived along the military frontier for most of his life and in the process developed a personal hatred for Turkmen at large and the Çandarids in particular as well as a desire to remove the threat they posed to Trapezous permanently. Regardless of any personal feelings, the Çandarids were also the next logical target for Trapezuntine expansion, as they were diplomatically isolated and had a not insignificant Greek minority that would likely abet conquest by their coreligionists. There was also the glittering prize of Sinope, which was one of the great ports of the Black Sea and lay only a few dozen miles away from the Trapezuntine frontier. In preparation for a war with the west Mgeli had reinvigorated Alexandros I’s military frontier and expanded it to the entirety of the Çandarid border, but this had not been completed before the outbreak of war.

    Instead, Mgeli was forced to rely upon the bandons. As Iskender and his forces ravaged the Lykos valley, Alexios raised the Pontic bandons to arms, willing to throw the residents of the Trapezuntine territories on the southern side of the mountains completely under the bus to prevent the loss of territories on the northern side. His Genoese informants kept him informed of Ahmed’s troop movements and so he was able to puzzle out that Iskender’s expedition was a trap, intended to draw of forces. It partially succeeded in this latter intention, as Alexios dispatched ten bandons to hold the passes across into Pontos. However, he kept his main force of seventy[2] bandons at Polemonion (Fatsa), which guarded the coastal road eastward to Trapezous. He planned to lie in wait for Ahmed to pass along the coast road and ambush the Çandarid force. Simultaneously, he dispatched Psarimarkos to attack the Çandarid ports of Paphlagonia, hoping to turn Ahmed’s plans on himself and force him to divide his forces.

    Meanwhile, in Paphlagonia, the bey was growing impatient. Turkmen hordes were difficult to feed and maintain under the best of circumstances, and with no loot to be found many of the tribal leaders were threatening to take their followers and leave. After executing two of the more insolent elders, he broke camp in early June and went east. He was beste with supply problems from the outset, as many of the farmers and herders of Paphlagonia had correctly assumed that a horde of ravenous Turkmen would be making their way east soon and fled into the hills with their stocks and families. This left Ahmed and his followers with a shortage of food that made keeping even a semblance of discipline nigh-on impossible, and before he even crossed the Lykos several dozen horsemen had deserted. This problem worsened as the Çandarid horde pressed on into the military frontier. The few roads were frequently blocked by fallen trees, spike pits and caltrops, and mudslides were almost suspiciously frequent[3]. Food was also hard to come by, as the Çandarids were tasked with defending supply lines that stretched all the way back to Sinope, if not further. This alone caused the Çandarid force to splinter, as regiments were broken off to garrison supply depots, but the chronic food and feed shortages also caused a wave of defections. A month after departing Kasamonu, the invading horde had dwindled from 12,000 to 9,000, with many horsemen also being lost to cold, disease and ambushes, which were almost nightmarishly frequent. Most important, the delay in the military frontier allowed Mgeli to move his forces to intercept the Turkmen invaders, setting up ambuscades along the most-heavily trafficked roads.

    The decisive battle came at the small force of Mavrokastron (Akkuş). The castle overlooked a narrow turn in the road surrounded on both sides by dense forests that would make flight impossible while concealing Trapezuntine soldiers only meters from the road. Alexios had already selected Mavrokastron as being an excellent spot for an ambush, and it took several weeks of nudging the Çandarid force towards the fortress through ambushes and road attacks. The Turkish host finally reached the designated ambush point on the afternoon of 15 July. Most of them were hungry and exhausted, having been forced to spend every night for weeks camped out along the narrow road, under near constant attack from irregulars. There was frequent and open talk of mutiny, which Ahmed only abated by giving frequent speeches about the massive wealth that would be theirs for the taking in Trapezous. In truth, he knew that he was greatly over-valuing the amount of potential loot, but was afraid that failure in this crucial mission would end in his lynching or overthrow.

    The Turkmen were strung out along the road when the ambush came, their line more of an exposed flank than a defensive formation. The initial attack came in the form of a barrage, with dozens of concealed archers opening fire from mere meters away in the fortress. Believing this to be a routine attack, Ahmed ordered his men to dismount and fire back from behind their mounts, inadvertently giving up any hope of escape. Trapezuntine fire intensified as more bandons moved within range, revealing themselves but unassailable due to the green hell of trees and underbrush between them and the road. With their enemy finally in their sight after so long, many of the Turkmen charged off into the forest, most to be swiftly cut down by sword or axe or taken by an arrow. Claps of thunder echoed from Mavrokastron itself as the cannons concealed within it opened fire, sending makeshift grapeshot of stone and glass scything through the Turkmen lines. Ahmed by now had realized that this was no ordinary attack and ordered his men to mount up and flee, but this message was lost amongst the chaos of the battle. By now the air was filled with arrows and the screams of men and horses as the projectiles found their mark. The Turkmen were lightly armored in the Persian fashion, dressed in wool or silk without leather or iron. The barrage was taking a heavy toll, with clusters of Turkmen concealing themselves behind piles of human and animal corpses or being cut down from all sides. After half an hour of fighting, Ahmed’s standard fell as his horse was shot out from under him, severing any morale that may have remained amongst the Turks. Alexios ordered the bandons to close in and finish the job, axe and spear bearing soldiers hacking through the underbrush to reach the road. This final desperate bout of fighting was fierce, with mounds of corpses an unsteady battlefield as the Trapezuntines stormed towards the few survivors. The Turkmen fought on until the last of them was killed, but was unable to effect losses nor even stand their ground, as few of them were armed with anything other than bows and short swords that proved no match for the longer weapons and shields of the Trapezuntine footmen. The Ponts were merciless, as many of them had lived in regions subject to raids by members of this selfsame tribe for years and now avenged themselves upon their tormentors. Even those drawn from as far off as Kapnanion were vicious in their slaughter of the Turkmen, for their homes and families would have surely been despoiled had the long caravan reached its destination. The baggage train was looted and then burned, the few slaves that had been taken freed and any surviving horses captured. By the end of the battle, more than 7,000 Turkmen lay dead on the field, for the loss of only two bandons’ worth of men. The Çandarid army was destroyed, with only a handful of survivors escaping into the wilderness and fewer still actually making it back across the Lykos. The funeral pyre for the Turkmen took three days to burn itself out.

    Mavrokastron--or more accurately, the massive funeral pyre thereafter--was witnessed by one of the supply forced who had come to help Ahmed, and as they fled back westwards they spread word of the disaster. Iskender had already withdrawn from the Lykos after being defeated by an army under a general of absolutely no historical consequence named Mikhael Kantakouzenos Philanthropenos, and when word reached him of Mavrokastron he withdrew back across the river to Paphlagonia. He attempted to sue for peace, offering great tribute in both coin and slaves, but was refused in both. With the Çandarid army slaughtered, Alexios had the scent of blood, and was determined to expand Trapezous’ frontiers. Sinope whispered his name….

    [1] Alexios and Keteon had worked out a power-sharing agreement, where Keteon was sovereign in all domestic and diplomatic matters, and Alexios was sovereign in all military affairs.
    [2] A bandon has 200 men; He had 14,000 men with him.
    [3] Alexandros’ mountainside sluices had been forgotten even by many defenders, so that the few defenders who were captured and tortured could not betray their presence.
    Part XI: Counterstrike (1468)
  • Eparkhos

    Part XI: Counterstrike (1468)

    The Trapezuntine navy was the pride of the eastern empire, its maintenance requiring several dozen pounds of gold per year and its crews being excepted from the bandon system. It was charged with the defense of Trapezuntine interests across the Black Sea, the eradication of piracy and the protection of merchantmen traveling to and fro the great entrepot. Because of the tireless efforts of the megas doux and his subordinates in these fields, Trapezous was one of the richest cities of the Middle East. However, all of these were subordinate to the foremost duty of the aftokrator’s great galley fleets. In times of war, the Trapezuntine fleet was to sweep the Black Sea of all foreign vessels, drive enemy ships into port and trap them there, starving the trading ports and fishing centers of their livelihood until they were forced to yield to the aftokrator’s will. They had done this in the early 1460s in the war with the Ottomans, and they would do it again in the late 1460s as Trapezous and the Çandarids marched to war.

    The latter half of the reign of Alexandros I and the reigns of his successors had seen the navy plateau in terms of material and manpower, but it was still a formidable force. In the spring of 1468, the Imperial navy numbered some forty-two galleys and several dozen transports and other craft, stationed either in Trapezous itself or out on pirate-hunting expeditions. Psarimarkos was still the megas doux, by now respected amongst all classes of society for his experience and the valor displayed at Eragli and in a clash with a group of corsairs off of the Kerch Strait. Discipline and hard-won experience (as well as a decrease in Genoese involvement in the region due to financial constraints) had turned the Trapezuntine navy into the foremost power of the Black Sea, and both Psarimarkos and Mgeli were confident that they would win a series of easy victories in any conflict.

    The Çandarid navy, on the other hand, was a sorry excuse for a flotilla. The Çandarid beys had primarily focused on landward expansion for generations, leaving their navy as the province of the trade comptroller. With their fleets languishing as a penniless backwater, there were few volunteers willing to be payed peanuts for hard galley work, and so the beylik’s fleet had been forced to resort to piracy to even sustain itself. Ironically, the Trapezuntine fleet had sent more Çandarids to the bottom in their anti-piracy campaigns than they would throughout the entire war. The maritime defenses of the beylik, meanwhile had been left in the hands of local administrators and councils, and thus their strength and quality varied wildly from city to city. Sinope, one of the chief ports of the Black Sea, boasted a series of impressive fortifications, whereas many of the minor ports were defended only by a single seawall or not at all. With enemy forces and defenses as pathetic as they were, Psarimarkos’ staff had drawn up plans for aggressive actions against the Çandarids.

    Operations began in late April, just as Iskender’s raiding host was moving into the Lykos valley. Psarimarkos had suspected that war was brewing and so had had all of his ships recently provisioned and their crews reinforced so he could sail at the first sign of conflict. As soon as word reached the capital of the Turkish invasion, the megas doux weighed anchor. With him were thirty-three galleys and sixteen transports, a strike force sufficient to both crush the Çandarid navy and seize any unexpected maritime fortifications. After exiting Trapezous, the Trapezuntine fleet turned westward, bearing directly upon their intended target of Sinope. Psarimarkos considered the Çandarid navy to pose so little a threat that he didn’t even attempt to conceal his advance. After two delays that forced them ashore at Ordu to escape rough weather with the loss of a supply craft, the Imperial fleet arrived at Sinope on 6 May. They had met several picket ships en route and thus were not entirely unopposed, but despite the best efforts of the Turkmen they were unable to muster anything more than seven galleys and a handful of small craft. The Trapezuntines rode at anchor for two days, waiting for another patch of choppy seas to die down before they began the attack on 9 May 1468.

    Before the battle begins, a quick geography lesson. Sinope sits astride a narrow peninsula that juts out into the Black Sea. The city itself lies upon the narrowest section of this peninsula, with the city’s land walls guarding the approaches from the mainland (southwest). However, the northwesternment section of the peninsula blossoms outward into a rocky headland. The city’s primary bank is formed to the south of the city itself, between this headland and the mainland.

    The commander of the Çandarid, one Ahmed Paşa, arrayed his forces in the city’s bay. He believed that the Trapezuntines would sail directly into the harbor to attack him, as there was in his mind no other way to attack the city. As such, he positioned is forces in the following manner; he arranged his light craft (emphasis on the craft, as many of these vessels had been confiscated from their owners and didn’t even qualify as ships, let alone military vessels) in an arc stretching across the harbor. He held back his galleys and several armed transports, afraid that putting them in the line of battle would expose them to direct attack and weaken them significantly. However, the absence of heavier ships unnerved the commanders of the lighter ships and many of them intended to turn and run for shore as soon as battle was joined. Thus, Ahmed inadvertently sabotaged his own plan, as he had hoped to dash out into the harbor and catch the Trapezutines in their flank.

    Psarimarkos’ plan needs no introduction, as it went off without a hitch. Shortly after dawn on the ninth, the Trapezuntine fleet weighed anchor and moved into battle lines. Eighteen of the galleys formed up in ranks, leaving the transports in the rear under the protection of the remaining fifteen galleys. The formation of galleys made for the Çandarid line-of-battle, with many of the light craft turning and fleeing while they were still outside of bowshot. Those few who remained were ground beneath Trapezuntine prows as they were sunk or boarded depending on the whim of the Pontic commanders. One of the galleys, the Agios Nikolaos, rammed a commandeered fishing vessel and sliced cleanly through it to ram a merchantman behind her. As this naval massacre was occuring, Ahmed roused the rowers and boatsmen aboard his personal force of valleys and beat to, hoping to intercept the main galley force. However, rather than taking them in their flank they would in turn be out-maneuvered, as six Trapezuntine galleys from the reserve emerged from one of the Black Sea’s infamous fog banks and slammed into the Turkish flank. In rushing to meet their opponents, the Çandarids had accidentally advanced past a bank of shoals that Ahmed had believed guarded his flank, and so they were caught completely unawares. The lead Trapezuntine galley slammed into its Turkish counterpart less than half an hour after the battle began, and within fifteen minutes all but one of the Çandarid vessels had gone down. This remaining ship had been captured, eight young Trapezuntine sailors having leapt onto the deck of the other ship when they suspected the slave rowers of the galley of being massacred and captured it against astronomical odds. Seven of the eight sailors died or succumbed to their wounds, with only Loukas Ratetas surviving. Remember that name.

    With the Çandarid navy either run aground and abandoned or at the bottom of the Black Sea, Psarimarkos then turned his attention to Sinope. The city’s sea walls were heavily defended, albeit by a mixture of mercenaries and panicky militiamen, and the megas doux was unwilling to risk an assault against the walls. However, Psarimarkos still believed that the city could be taken by his forces, and so he ordered his fleet to establish a blockade until he could figure out a way in. Sinope’s fortresses were poor to non existent on its north-western side, so the megas doux was sure that he could take the city if he could just land men on the headland. Unfortunately for him, the Sinopians had left that section of the wall abandoned for good reason; The headland was surrounded on all sides by dangerous shoals and rocks that made approach nigh-on impossible, and even if they could be passed the shoreline was a forested cliff. For several days, the conundrum puzzled Psarimarkos, and he was unable to find a solution. Then, the answer came from an unexpected quarter.

    On the night of 15 May, a group of sailors were drinking their wine rations and discussing their predicament. After several hours of drinking a Kartvelian sailor, one Bagrat, stood and announced that he would reach the headland or die trying. His colleagues egged him on, and a few minutes later Bagrat was crashing through the surf with a sailing rope tied around his waist. The sailor nearly drowned a half-dozen times as the cold water rushed over him, and was cut to ribbons by the rocks. In spite of this, Bagrat was able to drag himself to the headland and pulled himself up a concealed gully. He pulled his rope around a nearby tree, fell asleep, and then swam back to the ship on the morning tide the next day. Psarimarkos was informed of this and immediately realised the opportunity dropped into his lap. That night, several dozen men were pulled across to the headland on small rafts, ultimately landing four hundred men before daybreak.

    When the governor of Sinope awoke to find four hundred Trapezuntines scaling the north-western land walls, he knew the game was up. He surrendered, hoping to avoid a sack, but this message was not communicated to the soldiers directly on the walls. Because of this, fighting there continued for the better part of the hour, and Psarimarkos considered the city to have been taken by storm, which meant that the city was subject to the Law of the Ram[1]. After the obligatory days of sack in which a great amount of precious metal and spices were carried off, the total value of the port had been decreased by a goodly margin. In spite of this, the megas doux was still able to gleefully write to Mgeli and inform him of the capture of one of the great ports of the Black Sea.

    The combined impact of Mavrokastron and the fall of Sinope was to force the Çandarids to unilateral surrender. Iskender’s realm was now splintering as the various Turkmen bands revolted or declared themselves/the candidate for their choice as the true bey. Pir Ahmet had also invaded the far south of the Çandarid beylik, and would need to be dealt with swiftly. As such, Iskender sued for peace with Trapezous in late July. Alexios’ terms were as fastidious as they were broad. All Çandarid territories east of the Halys[2] would be ceded to Trapezous[3], as well as Sinope and all territories in the coastal mountains as far west as Abana.

    Over the next two years, Trapezous would integrate these new conquests as part of the Empire. However, the most dramatic impact of the Çandarid War of 1468 would only begin two years later. Suleyman III, the Çandarid bey, would be beset on all sides by foreign and domestic enemies, and would be forced to ask the Trapezuntines for protection as a vassal…..


    [1] The Law of the Ram was the closest thing to a human rights code in the pre-modern era and was adopted across pretty much all societies by a mixture of morality and common usage. If a city surrendered before besiegers had placed a ram or other such siege engine to the walls, then they would be spared a sack; If not, then vae victis.
    [2] Kizilirmak River
    [3] This region’s population was majority Armenian, and Armenians were a sizeable minority across all of the newly conquered territories and certain parts of the Lykos valley. As shall be seen in the next update, these new acquisitions would see a policy of tolerance towards heretical Christians adapted out of common interest against the infidel Turkmen.
    Part XII: Administering an Empire
  • Eparkhos

    Apologies in advance if this one was a bit choppy, I cut it out of a larger update segment.
    Part XII: Administering an Empire (1468-1473)

    The borders of the Trapezuntine Empire had remained static or nearly so for centuries, with the last major acquisition of land outside of the Pontic heartland having occurred in the mid-13th century, more than two hundred years before the regency of Mgeli and Keteon. While the conquests of Alexandros I had expanded the realm of the aftokrator considerably, the conquests of the Lykos and the Çanikids had not nearly brought as much new territory or subjects into the realm as had Alexios’ victory of the Çandarids. Mgeli had won an impressive victory, but Keteon’s stewardship of the conquests would have to be nearly as impressive to succeed.

    The Trapezuntines had inherited from their Byzantine predecessors a highly centralized and hierarchical bureaucracy. This was excellent for seeing to stable, well-controlled territories and maximizing the income of the government, but was very difficult to expand into new conquests. Even when it could be successfully transferred, the introduction of this all-encompassing tax structure had a tendency to anger the new subjects and cause no few number of revolts. The regency couldn’t afford to put down these numerous revolts, as even with the bandon system, the Trapezuntine army had a very small pool of manpower to draw from. Thus, the institution of this institution had to be done very cautiously to prevent the loss of the new conquests, while still making good use of the extra territory.

    Unfortunately, Keteon and her underlings had little experience in governing such a disparate populace as that which had been annexed after the Çandarid War. The pre-war population of the Trapezuntine Empire was roughly 330,000, of which roughly 200,000 were Lazes and 125,000 Rhomeoi, with the rest being Turk and Latin citizens. The vast majority of the population was rural, with Trapezous having 50,000 residents (both native and non-citizen) and the combined population of the other ports coming to some 20,000. The population was almost entirely Orthodox, with small Muslim and Latin and Armenian Christian minorities. Because of the homogeneity of the Empire, a simple (comparatively) code of law was applicable to the entire population equally. However, this level of homogeneity was non-existent in the new conquests. Some 150,000 new subjects of the Empire lived in the lands west of the Lykos, divided between several religious, linguistic and cultural groups. Religiously, there were some 75,000 Orthodox, 45,000 Muslims (mostly Sufi Sunni with a small number of Alevis) and 25,000 Armenians, with a handful of Latins intermixed. None of these religions were homogenous, with their being Orthodox Turks, Muslim Greeks and Orthodox Latins scattered across the provinces. There were 60,000 Greeks, 30,000 Turkmen, 30,000 Seljuks[1], 25,000 Armenians and a smattering of other ethnic groups. All of these ethnic groups expected to be treated according to their own individual law codes (the Paphlagonian Greeks had been cut off from rule by their coreligionists for so long that they had developed their own legal and social codes). Handling this complex mosaic of ethnic groups would have been a difficult challenge for even the best of governors, and Keteon could only hope that she was up to the task.

    The first actions of the administrators were, if not harsh than at the very least somewhat hostile. In late 1468, the regentess declared that all subjects of the aftokrator would follow the single pre-existing law code, the Hexabiblos[2]. This kept the legal process simple and required only a single set of judges and lawyers to administer, but denied many of the new minority communities their hoped-for privileges. Even the Çandarids had allowed non-muslims to operate their own legal system outside of the sharia courts, and many educated Armenians and Seljuks began to grumble about this new reform. Sensing the brewing trouble, Keteon appeased the religious minorities through a variety of methods. Many of the more strict and/or alien laws were amended to give discretion to the judges; many prominent Armenians and Muslims were then promoted as judges in areas with Armenian and Muslim majorities.

    The tax code was also altered and expanded to fit the new conquests. Keteon was a deeply pious woman, and spent a good deal of time obsessing over theological doctrine and other heavenly matters. She was greatly concerned with the fate of her subjects’ souls, and despite the fact that any attempt at mass conversion would be suicide she was determined to spread the holy word of Orthodoxy in her new territories. As such, in hopes of turning the more mercurial (and thus threatened) of her subjects to the righteous way, she enacted a new religious tax code in 1470. Latin, Armenian and other heretical Christians have their hearth taxes increased by 5%, while Muslims face an increase of 10%, an ironic reversal of the jizya tax. Once again, this causes no little amount of grumbling, but the region is fairly prosperous and no one’s livelihood is endangered. Many of the heretical Christians actually begin to take pride in their elevated position, as they now rank above the infidels who had dominated them for generations. Keteon also began the gradual introduction of the bandon system by extracting a labor tax to build a line of fortresses along the new frontier. The fortresses were soon completed, but the Empire was stretched to its limit in garrisoning the extended frontier and a handful of Turkmen raiders managed to slip across the border in the first years of the 1470s.

    However, in spite of all of these taxes, Keteon would take an unprecedented step in 1469, when she issued the Chrysobull of 1469. Other than the taxes, no persons would be persecuted for practicing their religion. This didn’t apply to proselytizing their faith--Muslims would be burned at the stake and heretical Christians would have their hands and forearms cut off--but if the heretics and heathens kept to themselves then they would be left alone. This utterly infuriated the church of course, and many historians both ecclesiastical and secular consider it to be one of the chief causes of the Schism of 1470, but the general consensus is that it was the right decision. The Armenians likely would’ve born the persecutions with a great deal of unhappiness, but any attempt to persecute the Muslims for merely practicing their faith would be a good way to get jihaded by one of the many Turkmen beyliks.

    There was also the problem of depopulation, as the Çandarid War had sent tens of thousands of men to their deaths and left vast swathes of arable land abandoned. Never one to miss an opportunity, Keteon moved to use this opportunity to shore up her son’s rule in the newly conquered provinces. The Ottomans had recently clamped down on their Greek and Bulgarian subjects after a series of rebellions, and the regentess saw an opportunity. Over the first three years of the 1470s, several hundred refugees from Rumelia, both Greek and Bulgarian, were settled in much of the vacant land. There was a brief liturgical controversy as the Bulgarians insisted on their right to use Bulgarian in Orthodox masses when the state policy was to enforce Greek, but this was quickly resolved, with the newcomers accepting higher taxes in exchange for this boon. As expected, many of the settlers were grateful for being given means to escape Turkish rule and were fiercely loyal to both Alexandros II and his regents, putting down several small revolts amongst the Turks of their own accord. The presence of a large pseudo-diaspora in the region would sow the seeds for Notaras’ War in the 1480s, but that’s a story for another time….

    However, not all of the vacant land was settled. A good deal of it--primarily the high steppe, where it would be difficult to grow staple crops at best--were turned over to groups of sheepherders, both Greek and Turkish. The Pontic wool trade had boomed in recent years, due to two chief reasons. The first was that the securing of the Lykos valley and the lands beyond had allowed shepherds to range further and bring their sheep to higher altitudes, where they grew shaggier. The second were the Latins. After the initial wave of Thuringian migrants in the 1450s, Alexandros had continued to encourage Latin workers to settle in the city. The primary groups of immigrants were from Germany (Thuringia and Pomerania) and from the Low Countries (Flemings). The continued waves of Germans encouraged the growth of the Trapezuntine gunsmithing and powdermaking industries, while the Flemings transferred their customs of weaving to their new homeland. The Trapezuntine weaving industry and the resultant trading section was booming, with the cheap wares of Pontic Flemings able to out-sell their more expensive counterparts in Armenia and Atropatene[3]. The expansion of state-sanctioned herding west of the Lykos allowed this industry to further expand, and thus further enrich the Empire.

    Finally, there was the economic value of Sinope itself. The city had long been known as one of the chief ports of the Black Sea, and like Trapezous it could be reached fairly easily both galley and sail ship from any point in the basin. Several Italian gazettes had listed it as one of the five great ports of the Black Sea (the others being Constantinope, Caffa, Trapezous and Amisos), and so its incorporation bought a great deal of both money and prestige. Of course, the value of the city meant that it was a potential liability, as it could easily become the seat of a rebellion. As such, eparkhoi[4] of the city were rotated in and out on a yearly basis. The city quickly became a part of the Trapezuntine Empire in both name and spirit, as the local Greeks took well to governance by the countrymen and the extension of the capital’s trade networks merged the two cities' commercial classes together.

    As all of this was unfolding, Trapezous was wracked with a religious dispute, as the Ecumenical Patriarch and Metropolitan Funa struggled for control of the Trapezuntine Empire and her ecclesiastical environs….

    [1] As it was covered in BRSA; The Seljuks were semi-Turkish Muslims who had partially adapted Rhoman culture and were, as a whole, more settled than the Turkmen and in many cases often despised the newcomers.
    [2] Alexandros had adopted the Hexabiblos
    [3] Atropatene was the medieval name for ‘Greater Azerbaijan’ including the lands from the Greater Caucasus all the way south to Tabriz.
    [4] Roll credits!
    Part XIII: A Matter of Faith (1469-1476)
  • Eparkhos

    Part XIII: A Matter of Faith (1469-1476)

    The issue of ecclesiastical sovereignty had been a long simmering conflict between generations of Trapezuntine Metropolitans and Ecumenical Patriarchs, dating back all the way to 1204. This spiritual conflict occasionally boiled over into secular conflict, such as the brief war in 1284 between Trapezous and the Palaiologian Empire, or the brief series of naval skirmishes in the Black Sea that occurred in the 1350s. For most of their coexistence, the two groups had been at a standoff due to the great distance between them and more pressing issues, such as the ongoing conflict with the Turkmen who were eating away at both Empire’s frontiers. However, now that the Palaiologian Empire had been swept into the dustbin of history, Basileios Funa was determined to attain the title that he considered rightfully his and his successors’; the Patriarch of Trapezous.

    Basileios of Funa had been born into poverty in the Crimean highlands in 1421, with Gothic as his mother tongue. His parents had been poor farmers who had worked themselves to the bone to send Basileios off to Mangyup to join the priesthood. Once in the capital of the Gothic rump state, Funa had steadily advanced himself through a combination of determination and flattery, with no little amount of luck thrown in. In 1448, he was sent on a missionary expedition to the Vainakhs[1], a warlike mountain people in the Caucasus who had apostasied from Othodoxy after the Mongol conquests. Most of the missionaries were content to preach to a small group of merchants in Kartvelia and consider their work done, but Funa and a few companions cross the great mountains and began to preach amongst the Vainakhs. After several years, they had succeeded in converting many of the Vainakh chieftains, famously taking part in the baptism of some 5,000 Vainakhs in the Reyeko River in 1450. He then went south into the broadest part of the mountains, which was home to another group of fierce mountain warriors called the Maharulal Awars or Avars. He prozletyzied heavily here and was nearly martyred several times but miraculously escaped several times to continue his mission. This culminated in the baptism of Khan Rusalan in the Avar River in 1455; Rusalan would later go on to unify the region--in the name of Christ, of course. He returned to Doros in 1456, the missionary work to be completed by his friend, St. Konstantinos of Khunzakh. Funa ingratiated himself with Patriarch Isodoros II, becoming first a scribe and then a personal secretary of the Patriarch. In 1461, Isodoros consecrated Basileios as Bishop of Pontoherakleia, and two years later he was promoted to Metropolitan of Trapezous. His participation in the Brothers’ War and the Regency Struggle have already been covered in detail, and after these were finished he seemed to be willing to continue on as just another obscure Metropolitan of Trapezous[2].

    However, this changed in 1467, with the ascension of Dionysios to the Patriarchal throne. His very name--why on earth would he think that taking the name of the Demon of Debauchery[3] was a good idea?--angered Basileios, and this imagined grievance would soon be followed up with another. DInoysios had defeated a pair of Ponts, Symeon and Theodoros, in the election for the seat of Patriarch, and this appears to have filled Dionysios with a severe dislike for Ponts at large, refusing to appoint a number of prominent Ponts to the bishoprics which they had been promised by his predecessor, Gennadios II. Many of these men then appealed to Basileios, who was the highest-ranking ecclesiastical official in the Trapezuntine Empire. The two men exchanged a series of letters in the closing years of the 1460s, over the course of which subtle insults became far more open. Finally, in 1469, Basileiso told the Patriarch that the best thing he could do for the church would be to castrate himself, then tie a millstone around his neck and throw himself into the sea[4]. Dionysios excommunicated the insolent metropolitan, nominally due to the liturgical problems caused by Regentess Keteon’s extension of freedom of worship to the Armenian church, but the true cause of the chrysobull quickly became an open secret.

    The Pontic church quickly rallied around Basileios. The Trapezuntine church had had stronger ties to the Kartvelian church than they had to the church in Constantinople for some time now, due to the difficulty of travel and communication with the latter and the proximity of the former. As such, with the exception of the Bishop of Sinope, whose parishioners did a brisk trade with the Constantinopolitan regime and who attempted to remain neutral in the conflict, all of the bishoprics of the Trapezuntine Empire supported Basileios and refused to have anything to do with clergymen sent to fill the vacant roles from Constantinople. This support left Basileios confident in his support and so in 1470, on the advice of several bishops who were personally close to him, he fired back. Dionysios woke one night in late April to find that a chrysobull excommunicating him had been nailed to the door of the Holy Apostles, as well as his personal residence and the Hagia Sophia. The Orthodox World was thrown into a state of schism.

    Basileios was now the de facto Patriarch of Trapezous, but he needed legal recognition to legitimize Trapezous as the seat of an independent patriarchate. He soon found an unexpected ally; The Russian Church. In 1461, the Metropolitan of all Russia, St. Jonah, unilaterally declared himself Patriarch of Russia, and was excommunicated by the Ecumenical Patriarch because of it. Now his successor, Philippos, maintained his claim, and was willing to make common cause with Basileios to advance their joint claims. Basileios agreed, and in 1471 the two would-be patriarchs declared that they would not accept communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople unless they were both elevated.

    Outside of the lands surrounding the Black Sea, the feelings of most of the Orthodox church was rather lukewarm. The Ecumenical Patriarch wasn’t nearly as powerful as the Pope, and the Patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria and Serbia and the Archbishop of Cyprus[5] all disliked Dionysios and considered him to be the instigator of the schism. More importantly, Serbia and Georgia were both under assault by the Latin heretics and the Muslim heathens and considered these much more pressing problems than some squabble over leadership. Most importantly, that was exactly how the whole affair was viewed in most of the Orthodox world--just some leadership squabble. Dionysios, nor Basileios or Philippos, was able to really fan the flames of passion needed to turn this issue into a massive schism because there was very little at stake. Rather than there being some all-encompassing doctrinal dispute such as the Acacian or Great Schism, the Dionysian Schism, as it was rapidly becoming known, was more akin to the Arsenite Schism of the late 13th Century, of concern only to those living in a small region.

    With very little foreign support for the Patriarch forthcoming, Basileios and Philippos were able to confidently wait him out with little more than an exchange of a series of insulting letters. In 1472, the Bishop of Amisos was convinced to finally pick a side and did so, coming down solidly in support of Basileios. This did little to hurt Dionysios’ cause, but it was a major prestige hit. The schism finally ended in 1474, following a bizzare string of events. The schism, as well as his crass personality and generally repugnant nature, had garnered a great number of enemies for Dionysios, and in 1473 his domestic opponents caused a synod to accuse him of apostasy and depose him. The charges were far from convincing--his accusers were only able to produce a pair of lawyers and a courtesan who swore that they had seen him embrace Mohammed--and his opponents soon became desperate. One night, Dionysios was drugged and kidnapped by his opponents, who then circumcised him in his sleep and returned him to his residence. The next day, when a pained Dionysios hobbled into the cathedral, his opponents demanded he strip naked before the synod to prove he had not been circumcised. It was obvious that the operation had been recently performed, but by now there were enough diehard opponents and idiots for the vote to depose him to carry through. After several weeks, the synod then elected Romanos Khalitzes, the former Bishop of Herakleia, as Patriarch Andreas II.

    Andreas was far more reconciliatory than Dionysios, and so he reached out to Basileios and Gerontios (Philippos’ successor; the metropolitan died in 1473) in hopes of mending the schism. The two metropolitans were surprisingly receptive, and in mid-1474 the two factions restored communion with each other. There was a clandestine agreement that the metropolitans would soon be elevated, but Andreas was unwilling to do this directly. He was afraid that this would set a bad precedent and that future patriarchs would have to deal with ambitious metropolitans creating schisms willy-nilly in an attempt to advance themselves. As such, rather than directly appointing either Basileios or Gerontios, he instead summoned another ecumenical synod in 1475. This synod was held in Constantinople--the first since the city’s conquest--and after the summary declaration that the hated Council of Florence was null and void the issue of the patriarchs was brought up. Basileios and Gerontios both presented their cases in November 1475. Gerontios stated that the distance between his ecclesiastical provinces and Constantinople was too great for the Ecumenical Patriarch to hold sway over both, and evidently this was found reasonable, for he was proclaimed the first Patriarch of All Russia that very week. However, there was considerably more opposition to a Trapezuntine Patriarchate. The distance to Constantinople was significantly less than Russia’s, while there was much talk of the Metropolitanate of Trapezous and its subsidiaries being transferred to the Patriarchate of Georgia. However, Basileios counterred these with geopolitical and linguistic concerns--the Trapezuntine Empire was the last free, Orthodox Greek polity. If it were to remain subject to Constaintople, it was entirely possible that the perfidious sultan would use it as leverage to reduce the last spark of Rome and righteous Christianity in Asia Minor. As for the Georgians, they were already overstretched, and a transfer to them would necessitate the latering of liturgical languages, something that rang sourly with the primarily Greek synod.

    On 11 February 1476, the Patriarchate of Pontos was created, with Basileios invested as its first Patriarch. However, there were still a number of concerns over how this would be implemented. The Ecumenical patriarchate nominally controlled ecclesiastical affairs west of the Taurus mountains, and no one was quite sure where the borders of the new patriarch were to lie. After several more weeks of negotiation, a solution was reached. The Pontic Patriarchate would take control of all Ecumenical territories east of the Ottoman border, while everything west of the border would remain under the Ecumenical Patriarch. This pleased few--Basileios wanted all of Anatolia, while Andreas wanted the Pontic Patriarchate’s borders limited to the spine of the Pontic mountains--but it was good enough to be taken as a makeshift measure. Few at the time knew it, but these stopgap borders would last for several centuries before being altered. Finally, the Orthodox territories in Crimea (Gothia and the lands subject to the Genoese) would also be subject to the Pontic Patriarchate, with the border with Georgia being laid along the current boundary with the Ecumenical Patriarchate[6].

    Basileios returned home to a hero’s welcome, with a jubilant crowd meeting him on the Trapezuntine docks and accompanying him all the way to the Hagia Sophia of Trapezous. The Patriarch had emerged victorious from the schism, having finally accomplished the goals of centuries of Trapezuntine metropolitans. For this, along with several reported miracles performed while proselytizing amongst the Vainakhs, he was canonized as Saint Basileios of Funa three years after his death in 1483. He is regarded as patron saint of Trapezous alongside Saint Eugenios and as patron saint of Avaria, alongside Saint-King Rusalav. Finally, he is known as the patron saint of arbitrators, a fitting legacy for a man with such an immense legacy.

    However, he has not yet left his story, as he would play a large hand in the reign of Alexandros II….

    [1] This was the medieval name for the Chechens, as some of you may remember from Byzantium’s Resurrection
    [2] The title ‘metropolitan’ can be roughly equated with the Latin archbishop, all this is a very rough comparison. More accurately, a metropolitan bishop is a bishop who presides over a holy city or center of pilgrimage, the latter of which Trapezous was.
    [3] The official stance of the Orthodox Church was that the Greek Gods, as with all other pagan pantheons, were in fact demons and/or princes of hell. Even as the popularity of classical names rose in the late middle ages, these were considered inappropriate for baptism (unless the name was shared with a saint).
    [4] For those of you not versed in biblical meanings, here Basileios is referencing Matthew 5:30 and 18:6 to suggest that Dionysios was a pedophile.
    [5] Cyprus had an arrangement within the church, wherein the Metropolitan Bishop retained his position but bore the privileges of a patriarch.
    [6] A map of this will be put up soon.
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    Part XIV: Aftokrator, Aftokephalos?
  • Eparkhos

    Part XIV: Aftokrator, Aftokephalos? (1474-1476)

    The death in battle of Alexios Alexandropoulos Megas Komnenos at the young age of 28 had left the Trapezuntine Empire briefly without a ruler. Alexios’ young son, Alexandros II, had quickly been placed upon the throne while a succession of regents--first Basileios of Funa and then Dowager Queen Keteon and finally Keteon and the general Alexios Mgeli--oversaw the affairs of state. While the threat posed by a continued succession crisis or a weak regency had been quickly met and neutered, there was still one final threat to the future of the Trapezuntine Empire; Alexandros himself. Child rulers were notorious for their indolence, insolence and incapableness, with a childhood spent in the lap of luxury often going to their heads. As Alexandros II took the throne in his own right in the summer of 1474, the realm and surrounding territories waited with bated breath. Would Alexandros be as Ioannes Axoukhos, a wastrel who abandoned the duties of state in favor of personal pleasure? Or would he, like the immortal Basileios Bulgaronktos, raise his realm to unprecedented heights in a decades-long rule? Only time would tell.

    The childhood of the future Alexandros II had been unusual, to say the least. Born in 1458 in the court of his grandfather, the first few years of Alexandros Iunior’s life had been fairly quiet, with him being tutored alongside the other sebastoi[1]. However, things had gone south in 1465, when his grandfather died in the midst of a succession crisis. Alexios took his family and entourage, including Alexandros, with him on his flight from the capital. Alexandros spent several formative months trapped inside Kapnanion during the winter of 1466, as Sabbas’ armies closed on him and his family. Then, after the Battle of Kapnanion resulted in the death of both his father and his uncle, Alexandros was dragged out of the fortress and brought to the now-unified army as they debated whether to kill him and recall one of his great uncle in front of him. Fortunately for the young prince, Mgeli ultimately persuaded the soldiers to support Alexandros’ candidacy, and he was brought back to Trapezous by the army. He was then installed upon the throne with Funa as his regent, and over the following months several tutors and close servants were assassinated by the court factions. Finally, after a year of constant fear, his mother became regent and quelled the intrigues of the court factions. Then, she married Mgeli, and Alexandros began to have to fear that his stepfather would kill or depose him. Paranoia overshadowed every aspect of Alexandros’ life and he soon became very insular and standoffish.

    It was this constant concern for court matters that ultimately inspired the characteristic which made Alexandros famous in the Latin world. With nearly everything Pontic or Kartvelian a potential threat, the young prince was pushed away from the mainstream pursuits of the Ponts, namely writing and playing polo[2]. Instead, he developed an interest and ultimately obsession with the courtly manners of western Europe, as were related to him by the many Italian and other western merchants who frequented Trapezous. Ironically, the chivalric epics and stories of courtly love that Alexandros believed were commonplace in the west were a romantic invention, but of course, he had no way of knowing that. Instead, as he devoured Tirant lo Blanch or L’Morte d’Arthur, he absorbed a western mythos that would come to have a profound effect on him. By his late teens he had essentially created Trapezuntine jousting, and the tournaments of his reign would become the stuff of legend across Europe and the Near East. Perhaps most importantly, the notion of holy war would become etched into Alexandros’ mind. But that, of course, is for a later time.

    The regency of Keteon ended and the sole reign of Alexandros II began on 12 May 1474. The streets were filled with Trapezuntines eager to see their new (well, technically new) monarch. Alexandros had spent the previous few months in seclusion due to unknown reasons, and there was speculation that even his mother was unsure of his state, either physical or mental. A massive cheer went up as the aftokrator appeared from the palace, sitting astride a blue roan[3]. He was, quite frankly, of average appearance for a sixteen-year-old, standing an even six feet with dark hair and a large nose with few other outstanding features. He then rode across the city, accompanied only by a few trusted guards, to the Hagia Sophia, cheered all the way. In the Hagia Sophia, he finally became the official aftokrator. The ceremony was new, supposedly of his own invention, and began with him kneeling before the altar with Funa presiding. Keteon girded her son with a sword belt[4] bearing the sword of his grandfather, and the Metropolitan then crowned him as ‘Basileus ke Aftokrator ton panos Oriens ke Perateia’[5]. Alexandros then emerged, crowned and bearing his sword, to the cheering crowd who hailed him as ‘O Neas Alexandros Megas’ or, as he would become known to the Turkmen, ‘Skantarios’[6].

    The first matter to be decided by Alexandros was one that faced all former child-rulers; marriage. During his minority, Keteon had arranged for Alexandros to be betrothed to his third cousin, once removed, Helima Beghi Agha bint Uzun Hasan bin Ali Beg bin Qara Yoluq, or as she would be known by the Ponts, Martha. Martha was the daughter of Theodora, the daughter of Ioannes IV who had been married to Uzun Hasan to secure an alliance with Aq Qoyunlu. Martha and Alexandros had been betrothed to secure a similar alliance, as the alliance with Aq Qoyunlu was of growing import due to increasing size and prowess of the Turkmen realm. Uzun Hasan had defeated Jazan Shah and integrated the two hordes, then continued his conquests eastwards and driven the Timurids out of Iran. He now ruled over a realm stretching from al-Jazira all the way to Afghanistan, and could easily crush the Trapezuntines if he so desired. Knowing the import of this alliance, Alexandros was content with maintaining his betrothal (although there was some speculation about a marriage to a Kartvelian princess or native Pont) and the two were married in 1475. Martha was, like her husband, a woman of unremarkable appearance who looked more Persian than Pontic. However, she was very well-learned with a surprising grasp on paideia[7], and evidently the two took to each other well. As a side note, Martha had been baptized as Orthodox but raised as a Muslim, a surprisingly common arrangement for children born of Christian mothers in 15th Century Persia[8].

    With the marriage consideration out of the will, Alexandros turned his attention to foreigna affairs. Legitimacy was a problem that plagued all Trapezuntine empires, and in spite of his long and surprisingly non-conflicted regency Alexandros felt the need to prove his legitimacy in the eyes of man and God. The traditional manner of doing so was a foreign war, but Trapezous’ options were rather limited; they were allied with the Kartvelians and the Aq Qoyunlu, and the thunderdome of Turkic statelets on their western border made any permanent conquests in the region nigh-on impossible. However, Alexandros looked even further abroad than Trapezous’ immediate neighbors and cast his gaze north, across the Black Sea. Perateia, which had fallen out of Trapezuntine orbit decades previous, was ripe for the reconquest.

    There were two potential enemies Alexandros would be going up against, the Goths and the Genoese. The former were a truly pathetic statelet, having collapsed into infighting between tribal bands due to generations of corruption and court intrigue. (Basically OTL Trapezous in 1461) They could muster at most 5,000 men if all factions were persuaded to put aside their differences, and possessed only a handful of fortified strongholds, of which only Mangup and Funa could really be described as fortresses. Mgeli, who had become his son-in-law’s megas domestikos, estimated that they could be defeated within three weeks of a Trapezuntine fleet landing at Kalmita. The Genoese, however, posed far more of a threat. Genoese possessions in the Black Sea--Gazaria and a few ports on the edge of the steppe--could be taken fairly easily with the exception of the might fortress of Soldaia (Sudak), but if reinforcements could make it past the Bosphorus then Trapezous would be left up a creek.

    However, the ability of the Genoese would soon be greatly reduced. In the early 1460s, the Sforza dynasty of Milan had conquered much of northern Italy and the Genoese, who at the time were on the verge of the civil war, agreed to be governed by the Sforzas in exchange for certain rights. In late 1474, an angry mob lynched Prospero Adorno, the Milanese governor, and proclaimed the restoration of the republic. However, they had little popular support and before they could organize an army there was a very large Milanese army led by a very angry Milanese duke camped outside of the city walls. The Genoese were frantically recalling every available man to defend the city, and this left the Black Sea fleet severely undermanned. Here, Alexandros saw an opportunity to flex his muscles and began putting together a fleet.

    In May 1475, as soon as the winter winds had calmed, an armada was put out from Trapezous. Alexandros himself commanded the soldiery on board, who numbered some 4,000 drawn from a mixture of eleutheroi, bandonoi and mercenaries, while the ships were commanded by Konstantinos Psarimarkos, who was by now in his late sixties. They sailed westwards to Sinope and resupplied, then made a direct crossing of the Black Sea to the Crimea. They arrived at Caulita, the port closest to the peninsula’s tip in early June. The Genoese commander was shocked to see such a large force appear out of nowhere and surrendered without a fight, even before Alexandros could clarify that he had no intention of taking the city. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, the Trapezuntines then swiftly occupied the port. Alexandros then sent a series of dispatches to the governor at Caffa, explaining how as a subject of the Doge had come to safeguard Genoese possessions in this time of great weakness. Finding the governor gone, the Trapezuntine messenger then presented this message to the lieutenant governor, a man named Antonio Scaramanga. Scaramanga believed that Genoese fortunes were in decline, and so he offered to give over all of Gazaria to Alexandros’ ‘protection’ in exchange for land and a high court position. The aftokrator agreed out of hand, and over the next three months Trapezuntine fleets criss-crossed the Black Sea, taking Genoese ports and castles by force or by Scaramanga’s orders.

    After these were completed, Alexandros turned north and marched into Gothia. As predicted, they were too divided to offer a united front, and the aftokrator crushed the various tribal armies in a brief campaign lasting only two months. He then laid siege to Mangup, having already reduced Funa, and attacked the walls of the great fortress with cannons brought from Trapezous. The roar of heavy guns soon turned the walls to rubble, and after a final assault the Principality of Doros was ended on 22 September 1475. Alexandros parcelled the land out into pronoiai to be settled by Greek and Lazic veterans, then seized Funa, Mangup and Kalamita as property of the crown. He appointed a strategos named Ioannes Lazaros to oversee the pacification of the new territories and the settlement of vacant land, then set sail again in mid-October, barely beating the winter storms back to Trapezous.

    The campaigns of 1475 were an outstanding victory for Trapezous, with both the Crimean territories as well as formerly Genoese possessions across the Black Sea being subjected to the will of the aftokrator. However, despite the crushing nature of the victory, Alexandros would not have long to rest on his laurels. In the spring of 1476, the bey of the Çandarids sent a desperate plea to Trapezous, offering tribute and vassaldom in exchange for help in his ongoing struggle, an offer Alexandros thought too good to refuse….

    [1] ‘Sebastoi’ is the term for male relatives to the emperor either within his family or within five degrees of consanguinity.
    [2] Tzykanion, or Byzantine polo, was a popular sport in the Middle Byzantine Period and remained a common sport in Pontos long after its decline in the rest of the former Empire. Ioannes Axoukhlos, a famously indolent ruler, was killed while playing it.
    [3] That is, a grey horse with silver interspersed with grey hair. The use of a blue roan would be incorporated into later coronation rituals.
    [4] This was a tradition borrowed from the Ottomans, who marked a sultan’s reign as beginning with his sword-girding.
    [5] Firstly, this translates as ‘Emperor and self-ruler of all the East and the lands across the Black Sea’. Secondly, there’s a linguistic divergence here--OTL Pontic retained an antiquated phonology, where as TTL the writing has changed to reflect the manner in which it is spoken. As such, ‘kai’ has been shortened to ‘ke’, as Pontic does naturally.
    [6] A cookie to whoever guesses the reference first.
    [7] Paideia was the Byzantine art of speaking.
    Part XV: The Paphlagonian War (1475-1478)
  • Eparkhos

    Part XV: The Paphlagonian War (1475-1478)

    The Çandarid beylik had collapsed in a spectacular fashion. With most of his army food for the crows in the Pontic mountains, the young Iskender Bey had been unable to prevent his subject lords from rising up, being forced to play his innumerable enemies off of each other in hopes of preserving shreds of his father’s realm. This had failed like his father’s army at Mavrokastron, and within a year Iskender was dead in a ditch in Paphlagonia. His martial, Bayezid Admanoglu, then installed Iskender’s young son Ahmed II on the throne to act as a figure head as he struggled to maintain control over the capital and the lands around it. To the west, an Ottoman Army rolled across empty, undefended pastures, while to the south Pir Ahmet’s men ranged across former Çandarid territory. The former advanced cautiously, moving only to the Bolu Valley, while Pir Ahmet advanced as far north as the Halys River, conquering the many bands piecemeal. With their back to the wall, the post-Çandarid warlords rallied together under Bayezid and met the Karamanids at Karabuk, forcing the latter to retreat back south. This peace was not to last, however, and within a few weeks Bayezid had been assassinated. Ahmed II reigned for a time before he too was assassinated, and then everything got even worse. A long drought devastated Paphlagonia, forcing the Greek farmers up into the mountains and destroying great amounts of pastureland all across the country. With nowhere left to graze their horses, the Turkmen bands became even more fierce, with many of them massacring defeated tribes rather than enslaving them in the customary manner. In 1472 Kastamone was brutally sacked and burned, destroying the largest population center of the region and sending things even further into hell.

    Amongst all of this chaos rode Suleyman Bey. The brother of Iskender Bey, he had escaped the route that had been his brother’s downfall and attempted to reform the old Çandarid beylik around himself in an effort to restore control. This went nowhere, and after the sack of Kastamone he despaired of restoring his father’s realm and fled westwards with the remains of his father’s band. The fighting was less severe here, and there was some good pasture land left during the drought. He established his capital at Eflani, the first residence of the Çandarid beys, and attempted to organize a state. He brought the local Greeks onboard with his governance and organized a tax system that allowed him to organize a standing army capable of defending his territories. For a time, things were going well.

    Then they weren’t. The Ottomans were profiting immensely off of the chaos, with Bayezid II planning to allow the constant raids and massacres to continue until the locals were begging for Ottoman help. The existence of Suleyman’s state was an affront to that desire, and the new sultan would brook no affronts. In 1475, he dispatched an army under Gedik Ahmed Paşa to put an end to the Second Çandarid Beylik. Suleyman mustered every man he had to meet the invasion from the west, but it wasn’t enough. On the field of Kurşulu in late May, the Paşa was victorious and the Çandarid army routed. Suleyman himself had three horses shot out from under him before finally being beheaded by a janissary. Eflani was then put to the sword, after which the Ottomans withdrew, believing the last remnant of the Çandarid beylik to have been destroyed.

    They were wrong.

    As the Çandarids were being driven from the field, Suleyman had changed armor with a footman, who was then killed by the Ottomans. The prince laid low for several months before going east. He swore before God that he would restore his father’s realm and avenge his fallen comrades or die trying, and there was one state he knew wouldn’t assassinate him or turn him over to the Ottomans; The Trapezuntines. After several weeks of incognito travel across the hills and plains of Paphlagonia, he struggled across the Pontic border near Merosyphon. From here, he was arrested and taken to Trapezous.

    In December 1475, Suleyman arrived in the court of Alexandros II. He was a less than impressive figure, exhausted and covered in the filth that he had accumulated in his flight across Anatolia, and Alexandros was tempted to dismiss him out of hand. However, he allowed the exiled prince to speak his peace. He spoke of the long rivalry between Trapezous and the Çandarids and of how complete victory over the Çandarids would immortalize Alexandros as the aftokrator who had defeated his realm’s eternal foes. He spoke of how he long border shared with the burning remnants of the beylik left the Trapezuntine frontier exposed to constant raiding, and of how the constant struggle between various band would inevitably spill over into Pontos, and of how the labor which Alexandros and his regents had performed to expand westwards would be eroded by another round of raids and migrations. Finally, he spoke of the weakness of the Paphlagonian beyliks, of how none of them would be able to resist a determined push on part of the Ponts, and of how the creation of a loyal vassal would protect the Trapezuntines from both raids as well as create a buffer zone with the lands of the Sublime Porte. While Suleyman wasn’t a great general, he was a great speaker, and by the end of his tirade the courtesans of Trapezous were hanging on every word. While Alexandros wasn’t entirely convinced, both Keteon and Mgeli were deeply persuaded and lobbied the aftokrator to campaign in the west. Alexandros, seeing this as a fairly low-risk, high-reward situation, agreed.

    However, he would not be giving an army or funds directly to Suleyman. He was doing his best to be a kind and generous ruler, but he wasn’t a complete fool. Odds were that if he left the campaign in the hands of the Turkman it would either end in disaster or with the Second Çandarid Beylik refusing to acknowledge Trapezuntine overlordship. Instead, he made arrangements for Suleyman to accompany a Trapezuntine army into Paphlagonia. He tapped Mikhael Kantakouzenos Philanthropenos to lead this force, and then set about raising an army. He was unwilling to risk any of the bandons on what could easily be a false errand or a disaster waiting to happen, instead raising a host of mercenaries for Suleyman. Some 4,000 mercenaries, a mixture of Latin crossbowmen, Caucausian light infantry and Turko-Cuman[1] cavalry were mustered from around the Black Sea and the surrounding lands at Sinope, as well as a small force of eleutheroi thrown in as Philanthropenos’ personal guard regiment. In late May, the Trapezuntine army marched south out of the peninsula, into the heart of Paphlagonia.

    After crossing the mountains in mid-June, the Trapezuntine army arrived on the Paphlagonian plateau. A near decade of constant warfare had devastated the region, and the Ponts were immediately beset with supply problems. They could find neither forage for their horses or food for themselves, and ran into a severe water problem as they found well after well stuffed with corpses. As he waited for a supply chain to be established with Sinope, Kantakouzenos Philanthropenos described the land in a message to Alexandros;

    ‘The land here is desolate, ravaged by war and fire. Great plumes of smoke rise up from the eastern and southern horizons, which I suspect are funeral pyres, and when the sky is not choked with smoke the scorching sun makes moving nearly unbearable. The ground is cracked and dry from lack of rain and glitters with bleached bones. God has left this place.’

    Despite this bleak attitude, Suleyman and Phialnthropenos advanced further into Paphlagonia once their supply situation had been taken care of. Their first target was Boyabat, a major fortified city that overlooked the passes down the Alys Valley. The Trapezuntine army approached from the north-west, taking the suburbs of the city in early July. This drew the attention of the garrison to the larger force in the town below them. While they were thus distracted, Suleyman led a smaller force around to the rear of the fortresses and scaled an undefended section of the wall. They then secured the gate and threw it open, after which the Trapezuntine force rushed in. The garrison members either threw down their arms or were slain, and the city was soon secured on behalf of the Çandarids. However, Suleyman had no time to rest on his laurels, as the supply situation was growing steadily worse and he hoped to completely reconquer Paphlagonia before the Trapezuntines pulled out.

    After securing Boyabat, the Trapezuntine-Çandarid army then made its way west. After three weeks on march, during which time they repeatedly skirmished with minor Turkmen bands who saw them as intruders into their land or were attempting to pillage the supply lines. All of these minor battles with Trapezuntine victories, but given the sheer number of Turkmen in the region they were almost universally inconsequential. In spite of these delays, the combined host arrived at Kastamone[2] in early August. The city was still a burning ruin, but Suleyman and Kantakouzenos Philanthropenos agreed that it was of both symbolic and strategic importance, given its history as the capital of the beylik as well as its central position in Paphlagonia. They detached a small force to oversee the reconstruction of the city’s walls while the main force continued westwards.

    By this time, the advance of the Trapezuntine army had caused quite a stir amongst the minor Turkmen bands, as they recognized that victory on the part of Suleyman would mean that they would be killed or expelled from their newfound homeland. As such, as autumn set in, several thousand of them rallied at Eflani around the banner of one Mesut Afyonoglu, one of Ahmed’s former lieutenants. Afyongolu set about organizing his ragtag force into a capable fighting unit, but was confounded in every attempt by the tribalism and factional nature of the Turkmen, who refused to put aside their tribal quarrels even when presented with an existential threat. As the Trapezuntine army drew ever closer, Afyonoglu began to despair of ever creating a functional army. One day in late September, he and his family slipped out of Eflani and rode cross-country to the Trapezuntine camp. He threw himself at Suleyman’s feet and offered detailed plans of the Turkmen camp and capabilities in exchange for clemency. The Çandarid prince quickly agreed, and in the next few days the three generals drew up a plan of attack.

    Shortly after dawn on the morning of 8 October, a fire broke out in the Turkmen camp. It spread rapidly, engulfing tents and the men sleeping inside them in a towering inferno. Panicked men and horses ran out from the camp in all directions, only to be cut down by crossbow bolts as they were backlit by the fire. The camp was surrounded on all sides by Çandarid and Trapezuntine soldiers, and as the fire spread they began to close in on the camp, hacking down any who attempted to escape the flames. Throughout the night the air was filled with the screams of dying men and the smell of burning flesh, but these were not the sounds of battle. By the time the dawn rose, the entire Turkmen army was dead, killed by either the fire or the allied army. Some 5,000 foemen had been killed for the loss of less than two hundred Trapezuntines or Çandarids[3].

    After this massacre, Eflani quickly surrendered. With his former capital secured, Suleyman then turned his attention south-west and marched on Safranbolu[4], which in turn surrendered without a fight. Winter forced a temporary halt to the campaign season, but this lull in the fighting proved to be a boon, as many of the Turkmen bands living in Upper Paphlagonia took this as an opportunity to flee south. The campaign seasons of 1476 and 1477 would see the last of these bands driven out of Paphlagonia and the southern border of the Çandarid beylik established as the heights north of the Halys Valley. All told, the reestablishment of the Çandarid state caused the death of some 10,000 persons in both armies. However, these costs were outweighed by the region’s recovery once stability had been restored, and from the Trapezuntine perspective the whole affair had been a smashing victory. The perennial problem of raiding had been temporarily quelled at little expense, and the western border was now guarded by a suitably loyal vassal.

    This period of peace of Trapezous’ western border would be mirrored by instability in their east, however, and within a few years Alexandros would be forced to intervene in Kartvelia on his mother’s behalf….

    [1] That is, composed of a mixture of Turkmen and Cuman cavalry hired from across the Black Sea.
    [2] At this point, Kastamone technically became part of the Trapezuntine Empire as the ancestral property of the Megalokomnenoi. The city had been founded as Kastron Komnenos back in the 10th Century, and although it had been lost to the Komnenoi for nearly four centuries by this point Alexandros still desired to control his ancestral estates. Practically, of course, it was still controlled by the Çandarids.
    [3] If you want a really graphic description, check the spoiler. It’s taken from Byzantium’s Resurrection but depicts a similar scenario
    Part XVI: The War of the Three Alexanders (1477-1482) aka Marching Through Georgia
  • Eparkhos

    Part XVI: War of the Three Alexanders (1477-1482)

    The reign of Giorgi VIII of Kartvelia had been an unstable one. Caught between an increasingly powerful nobility and worldly church, the reign of Girogi had seen the powers of the Kartvelian monarch, which had been in perpetual decline since their height under Davit VI and Tamar, wither away to previously unseen depths. He had fought more than a half-dozen civil wars, emerging victorious only through God’s grace and the force of Trapezuntine arms. As his death approached, Giorgi desperately tried to shore up his realm for the succession of his son, Alek’sandre. However, by the time of his death, royal control had been reduced to lands surrounding Kakheti and a few ports along the coast and despite his best efforts Kartvelia was still primed for a fatal explosion. The spark would come with the succession of Alek’sandre ‘the Simple’ to the throne in June 1477, marking the beginning of the War of the Three Alexanders.

    The death of Giorgi VIII had been long awaited in western Kartvelia. This was the region which had rallied to the banner of Bagrat Bagrationi when the young nobleman had revolted the decade previous. In his moment of victory, Bagrat had been assassinated by Girorgi, but his death had not ended the political cause he championed. One of his illegitimate sons, also named Alek’sandre, had survived the wave of assassinations that had followed his father’s death, and the prince and his supporters had spent the years since the revolt organizing a second. As soon as word of Giorgi’s death reached the western part of the kingdom, Alek’sandre proclaimed himself King of Imereti. He was supported by the nobility of all the west, many of whom had deeply despised Giorgi’s reformist efforts, with forces loyal to Alek’sandre seizing all of the western countries, with only the fortress city of Kutaisi remaining loyal to Alek’sandre….aw, hell. The forces loyal to Alek’sandre II seized all of the western countries, with only the fortress city of Kutaisi remaining loyal to Alek’sandre II….dammit. Okay, now I’ve got it.

    He was supported by the nobility of all the west, many of whom had deeply despised Giorgi’s reformist efforts, with forces loyal to Alek’sandre of Imereti seizing all of the western countries, with only the fortress city of Kutaisi remaining loyal to Alek’sandre of Kartli. The city, which commanded the Rioni Valley, very nearly fell to the Imeretites, with it only being retained for the Kartlians by the heroic action of a commander of the city watch, Erekli Khakhaleishvili, who was a diehard supporter of the Kartlian Bagrationis. Upon first sighting the approaching Imeretite army, Khakhaleishvili leapt into action and seized all of the city’s gatehouses, holding the south gate alone against several dozen Imeritite cavalrymen until his subordinates could close the portcullis. Even with several deep cuts he remained a ball of motion, rallying the city watchmen and the garrison around him. A veteran of Bagrat’s Revolt, he took Kutaisi on a crash course for siege preparations, securing wells and storehouses to ration supplies. He then rounded up anyone suspected of supporting the Imeretites and confined them in an empty warehouse near the center of town. He then set about organizing the men of Kutaisi into a militia to defend the wall. All of this bought time for the city to be relieved, but no city could last forever. If Alek’sandre of Kartli were to have any hope of preserving a unified kingdom, he needed to act quickly to relieve the city.

    This Alek’sandre of Kartli did not. The prince had once been a promising future ruler, but a fall from a horse in his early twenties had left him significantly less so. After being crowned following his father’s death, the Kartlian court begged for Alek’sandre to send an army to relieve Kutaisi. There was no shortage of manpower--the ferocious loyalty of Khakhaleishvili was shared by many in the eastern mountains, and most of the nobility in Kartlia and Kakheti supported Giorgi’s line, in theory at least--but Alek’sandre believed that the western rebels would surrender if some concessions were given. This was a horrible idea, of course, but given the king’s erratic temperament and frequent mood swings none of the courtiers were willing to risk pointing this out. As such, even as Khakhaleishvili fought a desperate fight against the Imeretis, Alek’sandre of Kartli refused to send help, instead opening negotiations with Alek’sandre of Imereti. Alek’sandre of Imereti’s terms--Alek’sandre of Kartli giving up his land and claims and then exiling himself in Avaria--were ridiculous, but Alek’sandre of Kartli saw this as hard bargaining and refused to send an army.

    This carried on throughout the rest of 1477, then into the spring of 1478, then into the autumn of 1478, and then into the spring of 1479. COnditions within Kutaisi gradually worsened, with food running out in mid-1478 and the defenders being forced to eat their animals and boiled leather to survive. Dissent against Khakhaleishvili gradually increased, and in May 1479 he was cornered and lynched by an angry mob. The city fell on the first of June, being subjected to a brutal sacking that saw hundreds raped or killed and the city stripped of anything of value. Significant sections of it were put to the torch as the angry soldiers vented their rage on the city that had defied them for so long.

    With Kutiaisi taken, Alek’sandre of Imereti could at long last advance eastwards into his rival’s territory. After this disaster, the courtiers of Tbilisi finally swallowed their fears and told Alek’sandre of Kartli that the Imerities were serious and needed to be dealt with swiftly. The monarch finally came to his senses and ordered the levies of the eastern mountain to be raised. However, by this point many of the chieftains and noblemen of the east considered Alek’sandre to have insulted them by refusing to call them to arms and refused to answer their monarch, significantly weakening the martial ability of the Kartlians. Due to these defections as well as a number of communication problems and the general poverty of the region, Alek’sandre of Kartli was only able to muster some 12,000 men. This force was almost entirely light infantry, loyal and fierce but ultimately not very capable, with smaller forces of heavy infantry raised from the burghers of Tbilisi and Telavi interspersed with noble cavalry and a small group of mercenary Mongolian horsemen from the northern side of the Caucausus. This was in opposition to the 35,000 men who followed Alek’sandre of Imereti, primarily heavy infantry and heavy cavalry raised from the coastal lowlands. Knowing that he was hopelessly outmatched, Alek’sandre of Kartli sent a plea for help to his nephew, Alexandros II of Trapezous, while he began making plans to withdraw into the wilds of Kakheti and wait for help.

    The message arrived in Trapezous in late 1479. Alexandros had by now completed his indirect conquest of Paphlagonia and was eyeing up a group of seperatist rebels on his southern border that he could use to attack Theodosioupoli (Erzurum). However, these plans were thrown to the wind when word from his uncle reached him. Dowager Keteon remained a strong influence on the Trapezuntine court, and she lobbied for her son to answer her brother’s cry for help for the sake of the alliance between Kartvelia and Trapezous. Alexandros was reluctant to leave behind such an excellent opportunity to shore up his southern border, but due to unknown reasons (presumably a great deal of guilt-tripping) he agreed. When the spring of 1480 came, he raised fifty bandons to arms and marched eastward, hoping to bring a quick end to the war.

    However, the greatest impact made by the Pontic realm would not be on the battlefield but on the seas. As the winter winds calmed in late March 1480, the Trapezuntine fleet turned its attention to Imereti. The Kartvelians were not seamen, and the few Imereti vessels were either captured or forced into port within a month of Trapezuntine entry into the war. In mid-April, a flotilla under Adrianos Khaltkizes took Poti, the chief port of Kartvelia, by storm, repulsing several attempts to retake the city[1]. The Trapezuntine fleet also participated in the capture of Batumi, a secondary port near the Trapezuntine border, by attacking the sea walls while Alexandros stormed the walls.

    Speaking of the storming of Batumi, it nearly saw Alexandros killed. Leading his men from the front, he was one of the first over the thickly defended walls, taking part in the brutal hand-to-hand fighting that was needed to clear the battlements. Arrows filled the air, catching the aftokrator in a gap in his armor and nearly sending him back off the walls. He recovered and fought on, but an examination after the battle had been won revealed that his heart had been spared only by the leather strap of his armor. This particular incident instilled the foolishness of leading an assault on the city, and Alexandros would never again personally storm a city. However, this injury did not halt the advance of the Pontic army, and after securing the city they advanced further north-east. In June, they were met at the small trading post of Ozurgeti by a delegate sent by Alek’sandre of Imereti. Alek’sandre’s agent, a distant cousin of his named Konstantine Bagrationi, spoke personally with the aftokrator. The exact contents of their conversation have been lost to time, but the broad strokes remain to us. Alek’sandre of Imereti offered to allow Alexandros to retain Batumi and the alliance between Trapezous and Kartvelia if he would only recognize him as the legitimate king of Kartvelia and waive his claim to the throne. For, as Alek’sandre explained, Alek’sandre was demented and rapidly growing to be hated amongst all aspects of society. The Imeretites would unify the old kingdom quickly enough, as Alek’sandre stated, and then they would be much stronger than the Trapezuntines. This was true--the Trapezuntines could raise a maximum of 50,000 men from the bandons, eleutheroi[2] and mercenaries, while the Kartvelians could muster some 120,000 men from similar sources--and it was entirely possible that the alliance between the two states could be broken due to the ongoing turmoil. In fact, the death of Alek’sandre of Kartli and his brother Vakhtang would leave Alexandros as a potential claimant to the Kartvelian throne, which would certainly cause a split between the two. The proposed arrangement would benefit both parties, however, by allowing the alliance to remain intact and shoring up Alek’sandre of Imereti’s position. Evidently, Alexandros found it a compelling argument, for he agreed. The Trapezuntine army and navy withdrew back to Batumi, content to watch the fighting play out.

    With the Trapezuntine threat in their rear gone, the Imeretites redoubled their campaign against Alek’sandre of Kartli. Tbilisi fell after a brief siege, having been gutted and abandoned by Alek’sandre several weeks before as he withdrew eastwards. By this point, most of his supporters defected to the Imereti cause, denouncing their former ruler. Telavi surrendered without a fight at the end of the campaign season of 1480, allowing Alek’sandre of Imereti to kick up his heels in the second city of Kartvelia over the winter. This defeat caused the final collapse of the Kartlian cause, as most of Alek’sandre’s followers either defected for their own sake or resigned in disgust. Throughout 1481 Alek’sandre of Kartli and his few remaining followers were hounded through the mountains, with a dozen small battles gradually whittling down their numbers. In early 1482, he was confined in the isolated mountain-top fortress of Krdeven, in the very south of Kartvelia near the Qoyunlu border. For the next year and a half, Alek’sandre of Imereti and a small host kept up a blockade against the fortresses, allowing most of his supporters to return to their homes. After more than fifteen months of siege, Alek’sandre of Kartli finally realized the game was up and killed himself by riding off the side of the mountain on his horse[3]. Alek’sandre of Imereti recovered his body, cut off his head, and then marched triumphantly back to Tbilisi. The sight of their leader’s head on a pike crushed any Giorgist revivalists, and in a rich, jubilant ceremony Alek’sandre of Imereti was crowned as Alek’sandre II of Kartvelia. True to his word, he conducted an alliance with the Trapezuntines, restoring the pre-war relations between the two states.

    As a final note, Saint Vakhtang, Alek’sandre of Kartli’s half-brother, took holy orders to avoid death or blinding. He traveled south across the Qoyunlu realm and then even further beyond to the east coast of Africa, where he prozletyzed amongst the pagan tribes of the region. In the process, he became the first of the famed Orthodox ‘African Fathers’, to be joined by other Kartvelians, Avars and Trapezuntines. But that is a story for another time….

    [1] This incident would inspire the creation of the Maritime Army, a force of soldiers trained in naval warfare and amphibious assaults who would become a Renaissance version of a Marine Corps.
    [2] Alexandros expanded the eleutheroi to 5,000 in the first year of his reign, and they would later be expanded to a standing army of 20,000 by his death.
    [3] This is how Leon Sgouros, the famous enemy of the Frankokrats, killed himself in 1208.
    Part XVII: Going to Brasil (1478-1481)
  • Eparkhos

    Part XVII: Going to Brasil (1478-1481)

    Rumors of a land across the Atlantic had been commonplace across the British Isles for centuries. Sailors from across Ireland and Albion[1] had reported voyages across the great sea to mystical islands concealed in fog since the time of Saint Brendan, all the way back in the late 6th Century. The legends had so inspired one Madog, a Welsh prince, that he had sailed over the horizon in 1183, never to return. For three centuries, Madog’s failed voyage had been considered the end of the matter, with few captains being willing to risk a voyage to parts unknown and even fewer financiers being willing to back it.

    This changed in 1478. Bristol had been the second port of England for several decades, her sons ranging as far as Iceland and Genoa on trading expeditions. The chief routes of Bristolian merchantmen were to Ireland, Gascony and Asturias, with whom they conducted a brisk trade. However, as the second half of the 15th Century drew on, the latter two avenues of trade began to grow more strained, as worsening relations with the French had caused Bristolian merchants to be expelled from several ports in Gascony, including Bordeaux[2]. All of this was in an effort to force the English into concessions, but Edward IV refused to give in, leaving merchants across England with quite the predicament. Throughout 1478 and 1479, merchant fleets languished on their warves, unable to sail at anything more than a loss. This caused no little amount of destitution, and by early 1480 many of the merchants and counting-houses were desperate for anything that would help them recover.

    Enter one John Jay the Younger. Jay had been born in 1442, the son of a Bristolian merchant. At a young age he had taken an interest in nautical activities, and he forsook familial employ to become a sailor. He had the misfortune of taking ship with Robert Sturmy’s disastrous expedition to Trapezous[3] and spent several years in a Genoese prison with his commander before being ransomed back to England. However, this did not discourage him from taking to the sea once again, and he sailed as a supercargo[4] on several trading runs to Ireland and Gascony in the 1450s and 1460s. After decades spent at sea, he was able to procure the captaincy of a cog in the service of the Weston merchant family in 1472, with which he pioneered the Ashoray[5] sugar route. This route proved to be a great success, and he commanded several more voyages to the distant islands throughout the 1470s. It was during this that he first heard rumors of ‘the Isle of Brasil’, a mythical landmass somewhere out in the North Atlantic that was rich in cod, timber and furs.

    When the economic depression of the late 1470s set in, Jay began mulling over the viability of an expedition to the Isle of Brasil, which he believed held a great amount of gold. After a brief period of consideration and consulting the most advanced chart of the day, he concluded that a voyage to Brasil would be an excellent decision. He appealed to his father-in-law, Edward Weston, and persuaded him to finance a ship for the expedition, a cog named Trinity. However, Jay believed that a single cog would not be enough for the voyage, and so he looked to Robert Strumy, who was by now the chief financier of Bristol. He retained a great deal of affinity for his former commander, and evidently the feeling was mutual. At great cost to himself, Strumy financed the construction of a fifty-ton vessel called George. George was modeled on the contemporary designs of the Portuguese, who were considered the forerunners of ship construction at the time, and looked like a mutated copy of a lanteen caravel[6]. In late 1480, the fleet was ready, and they set out from Bristol on 20 April 1481. Bristol lined the docks as the two ships sailed down the Avon, cheering and hoping to high heaven that they came back with an end to the drought.

    For the next hundred and ninety-four days, a sizable crowd waited on the quay, awaiting the return of George and Trinity. The crowd gradually started to disperse as the townspeople began to lose in hope in Jay’s expedition. Then, on All Hallow’s Eve, a battered and sea-worn George struggled up the Avon to a hero’s welcome. Of the eighty-nine men who had set out, only forty-six had returned, but the survivors were received as conquerors, being paraded through the streets of the city. After several days spent recovering from the harrowing expedition, Jay appeared in the city center on 5 November and told the harrowing tale of his voyage.

    After departing Bristol, he had struck out directly into the sea with only a short stop at Cork to replenish their supplies. They had spent nearly two months out of sight of land with little to do but watch their supplies lessen. After fifty-nine days at sea, a mutiny aboard the Trinity threatened to turn around and sail for home, and Jay was only able to quell this by promising to turn around if land was not spotted in two days[7]. The next morning, a look-out spotted a flock of land birds flying westwards, and Jay changed course to follow them. The next day, land was finally sighted after two months spent at sea, with the lookout, William Weaver, receiving a prize of 50£ for his discovery. Jay splashed ashore on 20 June, the first European to cross the Atlantic since the days of the Vikings.

    However, a cursory bit of exploration revealed that they had in fact landed on a forested barrier island and there was still several miles of water to cross to actually reach the mainland. While George and Trinity anchored, a small expedition rowed across the sound with Jay at its head. They found a densely forested land, with it nearly impossible to take five steps without hacking away at foliage. Thankfully, they were able to secure food and water, with a spring being found and several deer shot and cooked. Over the next two day, casks from the ships were portaged several miles into the interior to be filled and then portaged back out, a long and miserable process. After filling their casks, the expedition returned to their ships and set off once again. They sailed up the coast for three days at a slow pace, making frequent stops to allow the ship’s cartographer to create a map of the region. They found no bays, only a continuous string of barrier islands with the occasional shallow channel into the sound. Jay christened these the Weston Sound and the Strumy Islands, respectively.
    On 23 June, the Trinity and George rounded a sandy hook of land to find a large bay spreading out on all sides. More importantly, they spotted a number of villages scattered along the coast. The Englishmen were surprised and debated what ought to be done; some suspected that their residents were demons in human skin, while others believed that this was the land where saints were sent to live until the second judgement. William Weston, the captain of the Trinity, quickly tired of this debate and sailed up to the nearest village, calling out to the residents. By the time the Englishmen landed, however, the residents had fled. Jay shortly followed Weston, angry that he had not been consulted, and for a time the two captains stood on the beach, shouting at each other. Evidently, one of the natives concluded that these two were the leaders, and after a few minutes the two were interrupted by the arrival of an old man on the beach. Through a crude pantomime, Jay and the elder, Thomagwa[8] managed to communicate. Thomagwa identified himself as an elder of the Sanheecan tribe, who were members of the Lenylenapy people. Jay managed to communicate that he was an elder of the Bristol tribe of the English people[9]. After some further pleasantries, the Sanheecan emerged from the forests and the two people began to barter. The English exchange several small metal items and trinkets for a great amount of maize, dried beans, wampum and firs. Most importantly, a woodaxe is exchanged for a small ball of gold, which, as Thomagwa, explains was taken from far inland. This would have immense long-term impacts, but for now Jay just slips the gold into his pocket. The English are also introduced to ‘jachaing’[10], a strange herb that the Sanheecan smoke recreationally. After completing the trading, the English return to their ships.

    Over the following weeks, Trinity remains at the Sanheecan village while George continues to explore. Jay finds that a section of forested land he believed had been part of the mainland was in fact an island, separated from the mainland by a narrow strip of water. In fact, the whole area is rife with islands; The mouth of two rivers flowing into the sea were not actually rivers, with the easternmost one in fact being a strait separating another large island from the mainland. There’s also a large island formed by the strait and two other rivers. This island in particular is identified as an excellent spot for settlement, and Jay attempts to purchase it from Thomagwa. The elder refuses, explaining that it is not his decision to make, and directs Jay to one Teedyooscung, who Jay misidentifies as ‘Duke of the Poocoowancoo’. In fact, Teedyooscung is the chief of one of the tribes of the Lenylenapy, which the Sanheecan are subject to. Jay travels up a nearby river to the town of Aquacanoc, where Teedyooscung resides. Teedyooscung agrees to allow the English to settle on the island and three small adjacent islands, but there is a fatal miscommunication; The Lenylenapy believe they are allowing the English to settle on their lands, while the English believe the Lenylenapy are selling the land to them.

    The Englishmen construct a small palisade called Fort Saint George on the southern tip of the island[11], with four cannons taken off the ship to defend it against any threats. They clear out several fields and begin planting maize, grain and tobacco in preparation for the winter. In mid-September, Jay decides that he wants to return to England in 1481, and he begins making preparations to depart. He leaves behind eighteen men to garrison the fort, and on 16 September Trinity and George weigh anchor.

    The English ships go east from Fort Saint George, passing through the bay between the newly-christened Jay Island and the mainland. They follow the coast for several days before turning out from the coast at Cape St. Elmo, a strangely-shaped projection into the Atlantic. The wind is at their backs on the voyage home, and after a month at sea the ships are doing fine However, two hundred miles off the coast of Ireland, a storm whips up and wrecks Trinity on a shoal[12]. George loses several men who are swept overboard, but manages to make it through intact. Finally, they make landfall on the coast of Brittany, which Jay initially mistakes for Ireland, and right their bearings for the return to Bristol.

    After recounting his voyage, Weston and Strumy council each other and decide that Jay should be sent on to London. However, they find that the navigator had already left town and was riding for London and the court of Edward IV. The two merchants shrug their shoulders and, after smoking most of Jay’s tobacco, decide that establishing plantations for the crop would be an excellent financial decision. They begin making preparations for another voyage to Brasil the following year. Unbeknownst to them, the king was doing the same. The exploration and colonization of the New World had begun….

    [1] That is, Great Britain. I’m using ‘Albion’ here, because Great Britain has period-centric historic context.
    [2] This is caused by butterflies from an alternate Hundred Years’ War, which has been butterflied to an extent due to knock-on effects on the Genoese.
    [3] The exact destination of the voyage has never been determined, but it was almost certainly the spice ports of the Levant or Black Sea.
    [4] The term ‘supercargo’ is slightly anachronistic, as it did not become a common term until the mid-16th century. However, the job itself dates back much earlier, and I can’t find a better term.
    [5] ATL English name for the Azores/Açores
    [6] There is some evidence to suggest that Portuguese ship-building techniques were being aped by Northern Europeans, and even if they weren’t the lanteen caravel is a rather simple design. Comparatively.
    [7] This is taken from Columbus’ first voyage. Unlike Columbus, Jay keeps his word to the lookout.
    [8] This is a horribly mangled English version of the name ‘Tamaqua’
    [9] I’m trying to show that both the English and the Lenape were talking past each other, projecting their own societies onto the other.
    [10] This is a horribly mangled English version of ‘chehchaink’, the Lenape word for tobacco.
    [11] This is Manhattan, if you haven’t guessed yet.
    [12] These shoals, called the Porcupine Bank, are visible at low tide and considered to be the actually ‘Isles of Brasil’.
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