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Part XVIII: Notaras' War
  • Eparkhos

    P.S. I'll go back to Brasil once this war ends.

    Part XVIII: Notaras’ War (1477-1482)

    The sack of Genoa was a blood affair, but its knock-on effects were even bloodier.

    The downfall of Genoa had begun back in 1474, when Prospero Adorno, the Milanese-appointed native governor, had been lynched as a traitor. This had drawn the ire of the Milanese, who had considered Genoa and integral part of their realm ever since the republic voluntarily disbanded itself in 1463. In early 1475, Duke Galeazzo marched on Genoa, laying siege to the city and surrounding it on all landward sides. The siege even continued after Galeazzo’s death in 1476, with his minor son Galeazzo II[1] taking the throne with his uncle and regent, Ludovico, maintaining the siege to preserve his family’s honor and prestige. The Genoese were able to hold out for several years, being continuously resupplied from their colonies by sea. However, in 1477 Ludovico persuaded the Venetians to cut the Genoese supply lines and begin a siege proper. Battista Fregoso, the fortieth and final doge of Genoa, was a capable leader and managed to hold off the Milanese for two and a half years, but even he could not make the limited food stores of the city infinite. On 28 May, 1480, a pair of starving militiamen opened one of the sally gates in exchange for safety for them and their families, and the Milanese quickly swarmed the city. The second city of the Mediterranean was brutally sacked, with a quarter of her 80,000 citizens killed or maimed and another quarter enslaved. The city’s silkworks and great hordes of wealth and art were looted in a grisly scene that would be compared to the Sack of Rome by many contemporary authors. Several hundred noblemen and women were butchered like dogs, while anyone hapless enough to be caught out in the open were left to the tender mercies of hardened sell-swords. The ships in the harbor were able to escape as the Venetians rushed to join the looting, packed to the gills before they made their desperate run. Those left on the docks were killed, either outright or by the fires that followed the advance of the Milanese. By the end of the bloody five-day sack, a third of the city had been burned to the ground.

    The survivors made their way south across the Ligurian Sea to Genoese Corsica. A former Doge, Paolo di Campofregoso who, as a contemporary chronicle stated, ‘granted the immortality of an insect’, quickly took charge of things. He organized the refugees and established a makeshift capital at Calvi, the primary Genoese fortress of the island. He proclaimed himself ‘Forty-first Doge of Genoa’ here, but this title was not recognized outside of Corsica. The refugees and Genoese loyalists soon had to fight with the native Corsicans, who proclaimed their own peasant’s republic in the high mountains. While this war raged on, di Campofregoso elaborately recreated his native city, but it would remain just a pale shadow of Old Genoa. While the Genoese Republic would live on, albeit in a mutated form, at Calvi, the Genoese colonial empire fell with Adorno himself.

    During its long history, the Genoese Republic had spread its tendrils across the Mediterranean, from Safi in Morocco on the far side of the Pillars of Hercules all the way to Tana in the Sea of Azov. This empire had been maintained only through the vigorous efforts of the Republic, for both native rulers and rival Italian republics eyed their conquests hungrily. The Genoese fleet had been spread across the Mediterranean to defend the republic, but its desperate summoning back to the city to hold off the Milanese had left the vast breadth of the Genoese empire almost completely undefended.

    The first to strike were the Trapezuntines, with the ambitious aftokrator Alexandros II seizing Genoese colonies across the Black Sea in a nominal attempt to ‘protect’ the Genoese territories therein. He had been abetted by the governor of Gazaria, Scaramanga, who had turned over many of the fortresses to the Ponts and thus earned the undying hatred of all Genoese. The Trapezuntines would not have long to be the sole aggressor, however, and within a few years the Genoese empire had been thoroughly dogpiled by all of their many enemies. The Hafsid Emirate and the Mamluk Sultanate both took the opportunity to extend their control over Genoese factories within their ports, as did the Moroccans and Tlemcenites. Smaller trading quarters and ports across the Mediterranean, from Sevilla in Spain to the Levant, were seized by their respective governments. This caused a great amount of unrest and economic uncertainty across the Mediterranean trading networks, and there was a period of massive fluctuations in price of finished goods and commodities across the region.

    However, these economic impacts were nothing in compassion to another crisis that was brewing in the Aegean. In the Treaty of Haskovo following the end of the War of the First Holy League (though of course, it was not known as such at this time), the Genoese had taken a great deal of territory from the Ottomans. More particularly, they had taken the trading ports of Volos in Thessaly and Phokaia in Asia Minor, as well as the islands of Samos, Khios, Lesbos, Ikaria, Lemnos, Tenedos and Samothrake, as well as a few minor islands scattered across the region. This seizure had greatly irked the Sublime Porte, even more than the massive losses in Europe, as the fall of Phokaia was the first time the Ottomans had lost any territory in Anatolia since the 1350s. This issue particularly irked Mahmud Angelović Paşa, who had become grand vizier for the young Mustafa II[2] after Mehmed II ‘died in a hunting accident’ in 1466. Angelović Paşa was able to persuade his ward[3] to exploit the Genoese’s momentary weakness by retaking the ports and the islands. Phokaia was retaken after a cursory siege in 1478, but the grand vizier was unable to prevail upon Mustafa to take the fight to the islands. The sultan feared that just taking over the Genoese islands would invite war with the Latins, and he was fearful of another war in the west after the beating that the Turks had taken the last time around. Ironically, this fear of causing war with the Italians would be exactly what caused war with the Latins.

    You see, the Ottomans were not the only ones eyeing up the Genoese possessions in the Aegean. The eternal archrival of the Genoese, the Venetians, had desired to expand their control of the Aegean ever since the Fourth Crusade, and many of the Venetians regarded the Genoese islands as rightfully theirs. In particular, Pietro Mocenigo, the Doge, believed that these islands were Venetian by right of conquest, as their capture had been the goal of their intervention in the Genoese Revolt[4]. In 1477 and 1478, he spent armadas around Morea to seize the islands. Most of the islands were seized without a fight, but Mocenigo was cautious about presenting an overly-aggressive posture towards the Sublime Porte. Neither of the two states could fully destroy the other, but the prospect of full-blown war was daunting to both realms. Mocenigo feared that seizing the islands of Tenedos and Imbros would pose such a threat to Constantinople that Mustafa would be forced to assent to Angelović Paşa’s demands[5] and attack the Venetians. He hoped that the two islands would be left under Genoese control as an effective buffer zone. However, just in case the Ottomans did attack, he stationed two dozen galleys on Limnos under one Iakobos Notaras, with orders to prevent any attempts to take the islands.

    Notaras was an interesting character. He was the son of Loukas Notaras, the right-hand man of Demetrios Palaiologos, the last of the Palaiologian emperors. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the rest of the Notarai had been massacred. Iakobos was enslaved as a catamite and spent the next seven years in Turkish captivity, only escaping to the west in 1460. Deeply scarred and without prospects for the future, he joined the Venetian navy with the sole intention of killing as many Turks as possible before his death. Mocenigo had appointed Notaras as commander of the Lemnian fleet in the hope that he would be strident in his defense of the two islands but not actively attempt to spark a conflict. Unbeknownst to him, Notaras had every intention of doing just that.

    In 1480 Angelović Paşa finally convinced Mustafa that the islands needed to be taken quickly, both to avenge the losses of his father’s reign and ensure control over the straits into the Marmora. A small fleet of galleys and troop ships put out from Istanbul, passing out of the straits in September 1480. They exited the straits and made for Tenedos, inadvertently being beaten there by word of their departure along the Venetian spy network. Notaras scrambled his ships and moved to intercept, riding at anchor behind Cape Theotoktos on Imbros. As soon as the Turkish ships were out of range of land Notaras sprung his trap, barreling out from behind cover and into their flank. Caught by surprise, the troopships were left vulnerable. Notaras’ flagship the St. Elmo, plowed through two of the transports, reducing them to splinters and screaming men in the water. The rest of the Venetian fleet followed the admiral’s lead, sinking six of the seven transports in less than fifteen minutes before turning to their escorts. The Ottoman fleet was now in disarray, and the Turkish admiral ordered his vessels to run for Tenedos. The swifter Venetian ships then ran them down, with only one of the ten Ottoman galleys managing to run herself aground. Notaras continued the pursuit and burned the galley on the shoreline before landing and setting out to hunt down any survivors. He officially conquered both islands and installed Venetian garrisons to shore up the results of his victory.

    Word of the Battle of Tenedos spread rapidly both east and west. In Constantinople, it was taken as a clear act of Venetian aggression, whereas in Venice it was received as a defensive action against Turkish expansion. Mocenigo gave a grand speech in St. Mark’s Square, rallying the Venetians to war in the name of God and country. A similar spirit was raised in Morea and Thessalia, where large populations of refugees from Constantinople and Bulgaria had settled. The former was especially eager, as Thomas Palaiologos had passed in 1465 and was succeeded by his much more aggressive son Andreas, who was eager to advance his family’s claims in the Ottoman Empire. Meanwhile, in the Sublime Porte, both Mustafa and Angelović Paşa were, if not eager, then confident that they would be victorious in the coming fight. A fleet of galleys had been laid down the previous year, and without having to face off against a Crusading coalition as they had in the War of the First Holy League, they were sure that the superior Ottoman soldiery would be victorious against their mercenary and Grecian counterparts.

    While the Venetians would have superiority at sea until the Ottoman galleys were completed, their ships would be grounded in Italy until the spring of 1481 due to the katabatic winds coming down from the Croatian highlands. The Ottoman army, however, had no such limitation, and so Angelović Paşa was determined to steal a march from his enemies. In the autumn of 1480, he mustered an army in Thrace under the command of a recently promoted provincial commander named Iskender Ağa Paşa. Ağa Paşa was given a force of 3,000 Janissaries, 15,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry drawn from across the rump Ottoman Empire, nearly a third of the total strength of the realm. He struck west from Edirne up the Ebros Valley to the border with Albania before swinging south to follow the Strymon River into the Crown of Thessalonica. Rodrigo de Lara[6], the Aragonese viceroy, was despised by the native Rhomaioi as a tyrant and a heretic who had campaigned vigorously against the Orthodox church and her followers. As such, when de Lara attempted to muster forces to meet the Turkish invasion, he could scrounge up less than 2,000 men. de Lara retreated into Thessalonike and made desperate preparations for a siege. However, Ağa Paşa was unwilling to delay for a siege and so broke off a small force to maintain the siege before moving on into Thessalia[7].

    The Despotate of Thessalia was ruled by Mikhael Angelos, a Rhomaicized Serb who was the closest descendant of the old Komnenoi Doukoi rulers. However, he was also the half-brother of Angelović Paşa, and the two were on fairly good terms. Angelović had sent Angelos an offer of protection for tribute a few months previous and his brother had agreed, not wanting to lose his realm for the sake of some Venetians. As such, the Ottoman army waltzed across Thessalia unopposed, arriving at the border with Morea in late January 1481. Andreas had yet to mobilize his soldiers, as he had expected the Ottomans to still be in either Thessalonica or Thessalia. As such, Ağa Paşa brushed past the border guards and lunged into Morean territory, taking the regional center of Livadeia near the Kopais Lake by storm on 6 February. They then moved further into Attika, laying siege to Negroponte (Khalkhis) and Athens, both of which retained Crusader fortresses.

    This series of disasters caused panic when it was retold back in Italy, and Mocenigo knew he had to act quickly to restore the situation in the region. He raised a massive force of 40,000, composed of numerous condottiere from across Italy and mercenaries from Croatia and Germany, and loaded them onto a grand armada of more than seventy-five galleys. With himself in personal command, he departed from Venice in mid-April, bound for the Morea. They landed in Korinthos, where Andreas had mustered 8,000 infantry and cavalry on the southern side of the Hexamilion. The combined force then launched a counter-offensive into Attika, forcing Ağa Paşa to withdraw back to the Kopais Lake. The Paşa attempted to withdraw further westwards as the allied army closed on him, but found his route blocked by a smaller Venetian force that had been landed at Galaxidi. The Second Battle of Kopais, fought on 21 May, was inconclusive, with the allies pushing the Turkish right flank into the lake but the rest of the Turkish force being able to retreat intact. The allied force then pursued Ağa Paşa’s force as far north as the Malian Plain, from whence they retreated north into Thessalia. The allies lost 7,000 men and the Turks 11,000.

    With the Turks on the run, Mocenigo moved to turn their retreat into a permanent one. He left Palaiologos and his forces with 5,000 mercenaries to hold the passes onto the Malian Plain while the rest of his force took ship. They sailed up the Aegean to Thessalonike, where the Aragonese were still clinging to the city walls. Mocengio landed another large force of 10,000 men here to cut the supply lines to Ağa Paşa’s force in Thessalia and force him to battle. Meanwhile, Mocenigo reinforced his remaining 20,000 men with a force of Vlakh and Albanian mercenaries as well as a number of Greek volunteers, bringing his total strength to 30,000. He landed another pair of small forces at the fortresses of Kavala and Komotene, which guarded the road between Thessalonike and Thrake. By taking and holding these cities, the Venetians would force the Ottomans to travel along the longer Ebros-Strymon route, extending their supply and communication lines. He then retired back to Lemnos, where he continued to gather ships and mercenaries. He was deeply concerned about the capability of the Ottoman fleet, and so began making preparations to force the Straits the following year.

    Late 1481 and early 1482 saw negotiations between Venice and the Sublime Porte. Angelović Paşa had successfully puzzled out what Mocengio’s plans were, and he was hoping to delay the assault on the Straits until more ships could be completed. Mocenigo, for his part, knew that an attack on the Straits would be a bloody affair, and hoped to avoid a needless loss of blood and treasure. The Venetians also sought out allies on the Ottomans’ other frontiers, primarily Trapezous and the Karamanid states, who they hoped would draw forces away from their attacks.

    However, the war took an unexpected turn in February 1482, when Mocenigo died of plague on Lemnos. Disease had broken out in the camp several weeks previous but the Doge had not thought to take precautions against it, instead visiting with his men in hopes of inspiring loyalty. This backfired massively, and he perished after a brief period of illness. The sudden death of the Doge threw the Venetian cause into disarray. Several of the chief captains of the republic sailed back to Italy to take part in the election, leaving command of the fleet under the control of Notaras. This was a windfall to the Ottomans, who were able to move against the Venetians without having to face a command centralized around an able general such as Mocenigo. Angelović Paşa dispatched an army to clear the road to Thessalonike, which was now under siege by Ağa Paşa’s surviving forces. As expected, Notaras dispatched a force to prevent this, leaving his own forces understrength. This was just the opportunity that was needed.

    In late May 1482, the Ottoman galley fleet was finally finished. An armada of eighty-six galleys assembled on the Golden Horn, with the experienced naval commander Gedik Ahmed Paşa at their head. The Ottoman fleet put out on 6 June and sailed across the Marmora with 20,000 soldiers aboard, ready to either be landed or fight boarding actions. After a brief voyage, they exited the straits off of Tenedos and swung westwards, towards Lemnos. The Venetians were caught unawares, their intelligence network having lapsed after the death of their ringleader, and Notaras had to scramble to meet them before they reached Lemnos.

    The Battle of Imbros, fought on 18 June, was a humiliating Venetian defeat. Notaras was a capable captain but far from a good admiral, while Gedik Ahmed Paşa would be hailed by his contemporaries as the successor of Themistokles. The Ottomans used their numerical superiority well, extending a line of galleys more than a mile long. Notaras foolishly tried to match them out of fear of being enveloped, instead spreading his line out so horrifically that many of the galleys lay hundreds of feet apart from their nearest companion. The Turks exploited this mistake ruthlessly. After Gedik Ahmed Paşa gave the order to advance, the Ottoman galleys separated out in turn, with each one pinning down a Venetian counterpart in boarding actions. However, there were still Turkish galleys free to engage these now bogged-down Italian ships, which they did. Several dozen galleys were sent to the bottom and several more captured, with only fourteen of the fifty-two Venetian galleys escaping the massacre. The Ottomans lost twenty-three ships in a combination of enemy action, friendly fire and actual fire. The only saving grace was that the Ottoman landing on the island was repulsed, but this would prove to be a weak mercy as supply problems forced the large Venetian army there to surrender in July.

    Following the disaster at Imbros, the Ottomans rapidly reversed their losses. The grand vizier led a large army to Thessalonike a few months later, forcing its surrender after a brief siege. They wintered in the surrounding region before pressing on across Thessalia the following year. In 1483, the new Doge--Giovanni Mocenigo, Pietro Mocenigo’s younger brother--finally sued for peace. The resulting treaty gave the contested islands over to the Ottomans, as well as the Venetian holdings of Thasos, Volos and the Skyriade Islands. The vassalage of Thessalia would also be transferred to the Sublime Porte. The following year, the Ottomans would ‘purchase’ the Crown of Thessalonica from the cash-strapped Aragonese, extending their control over the region and bringing them to new heights since the disaster two decades previous.

    All of this begs the question; Why then did the Trapezuntines declare war in 1483, when all signs were against it?

    [1] Butterflies mean the young duke has a simpler name
    [2] Mustafa (b.1449) was one of Mehmed’s sons who died in his childhood OTL; TTL, Angelović Paşa used him as a figurehead to secure his hold on power
    [3] After Mehmed’s disasterous reign, many of the janissaries and in the court began to consider him either incompetent or cursed. In 1467, he was assassinated by Angelović and his partisans, who then seized the grand vizier and did the same. Mustafa was then installed, who in turn appointed Angelović as Paşa
    [4] As the final conflict of the Republic came to be known
    [5] Angelović Paşa did not have complete control over Mustafa and was afraid of pushing the Sultan into the arms of his court opponents, and so did not outright demand the islands be annexed.
    [6] Butterflies mean that he never became a crusader, although he did remain a very pious Catholic.
    [7] The Aragonese were at this time engaged in the War of the Castilian Succession, with Ferdinand of Aragon and Afonso of Portugal both trying to seat their wife on the throne of the disputed kingdom. TTL, due to the Aragonese being overstretched in the Mediterranean, they are unable to prevent the Portuguese from seizing Burgos in 1476 and are gradually pushed out of Castille over the following years, with the intervention of the French in 1482 causing The expenses of the war would force the Aragonese to pawn Thessalonike to the Turks.
    Anatolia & the Surrounding Regions - 1484
  • Eparkhos

    OE in 1484.png
    Part XIX: Protas Nika (1481-1484)
  • Eparkhos

    A.S. I'm not quite sure about this part, so I can revise some if y'all want it. The outcome has to be the same, though, I've already pre-written the next two updates.

    Part XIX: Protas Nika (1481-1484)

    To any outsider, the entry of the Trapezuntine Empire to Notaras’ War would have seemed deluded at best and suicidal at most. Trapezous in the war has been a topic that has intrigued and perplexed generations of academics, for good reason. The story of Alexandros II’s foolhardy intervention and the following series of events that nearly destroyed the Trapezuntine Empire is a long and complicated one, so it would be best to start from the beginning.

    The general consensus amongst the court of Trapezous in the latter half of the 15th Century was that the state would either expand or die. The Trapezuntine Empire had a problem with strategic depth, as its comparatively small size and coastal expanse meant that there was little room for defenders to maneuver and even less that could be recovered if lost. Their problem with strategic depth was softened somewhat by the rough hills and forests of the region, but these could only go so far. Instead, as many believed, Trapezous must expand until she was large enough to resist any invasion. This in and of itself was not unusual--the problem of strategic depth is a common one, especially for small feudal realms--but Trapezous’ geopolitical situation amplified it. The alliance with and the power of Qoyunlu made expansion to the south--which would have been the ideal route for expansion, increasing the distance from the frontier to the coastal cities--impossible, which left westward and eastward expansion as the only viable routes. However, going east would endanger their alliance with the Kartvelians, while going west would bring them closer to both the Ottomans and the Karamanids.

    For the first decade of the reign of Alexandros II, the question of westward and eastward expansion dominated the court, with neither faction able to completely sway the aftokrator. They had an unfortunate tendency to spiral out into assassination attempts that set back any advances that they made, more often than not sending them right back to square one. However, this deadlock abruptly ended in 1481, when word reached Trapezous of the arrival of the aforementioned Venetian armada in the Aegean. The advocates of westward expansion, foremost among them Princess Keteon, took this as an opportunity to press for the entry of Trapezous into the war. This was aided by the suspicious death of Ioannes Gabrades, one of the chief advocates of eastward expansion, and the subsequent splintering of his faction. Nominally, Gabrades was killed in a duel, but many quietly questioned the truth of this story. Nonetheless, by 1482, the Trapezuntines were preparing to make war upon the Sublime Porte.

    However, not all of the court backed this plan. Alexios Mgeli, by now in early sixties, insisted that attack the Ottoman Empire was a foolish mistake. This was dismissed by many as simple fear, as Mgeli was one of the few who still remembered the Ottoman attack on Trapezous some forty years previous. However, it was not simply fear that Mgeli based his argument upon. He drew on previous Trapezuntine campaigns in the west during the reign of Alexios I, of how conquests on the western side of Paphlagonia had withered away due to long supply lines and inaccessibility, and of how the same would happen to any advances they made. They would be fighting a war where victory would bring little and defeat would mean great loss, if not the loss of everything. They could not strike directly at Constantinople due to the breadth of the Black Sea and due to supply problems inherent within, but the Ottomans could strike directly at Trapezous, and because of this they would be at an inherent disadvantage. He also cautioned against the common belief that the Trapezuntine navy was impregnable and would defeat any Turkish force handily, in spite of the fact that the Ottomans now outnumbered them four-to-three[1]. Of course, speaking such bleak reality was not exactly popular, and Mgeli was hated by many because he spoke the truth.

    Unfortunately, this period happened to coincide with a sharp decline in Mgeli’s position at court. Kantakouzenos Philanthropenos, who by now was competing with him for the post of megas domestikos, and Konstantinos Makrali (a Greek and a Laz, respectively), who was one of the primary advocates of westward expansion and was competing for position in court, conspired to remove him from power. They successfully convinced Alexandros that Mgeli had been involved with the death of Gabrades, for which the aftokrator’s stepfather was exiled to a monastery in the Lykos valley. This and related intriguing occupied much of the attention of the Trapezuntine court, and so with Mgeli’s absence the cry for war went up again. This time, Alexandros agreed, and in August 1482 the aftokrator dispatched an official declaration of war to Constantinople. Hoping to steal a march from the Turks, he dispatched 500 eleutheroi and twenty-five bandons to advance into north-west Paphlagonia and secure ports for the next year’s campaign under the campaign of the obscure moriarkh, Basileios Mikhaelakos.

    Exactly five days after the bull had been dispatched, word of the Battle of Imbros reached Trapezous, throwing the court into panic. Several ships were sent to recall the one carrying the message, but through a string of errors it was just barely missed every time. With the sudden realization that he was going to have to deal with the full strength of the Ottoman Empire, Alexandros leapt into action, working around the clock solely on fear and adrenaline. Mikhaelakos, who had taken the small port city of Amastris without a fight in mid-September, was hastily recalled to Sinope. The aftokrator quickly decided that his best shot at victory would be to follow his grandfather and stepfathers’ defense plans and force the Ottomans to advance across miles of hostile terrain. He planned to clear a path--well, more accurately, leave one path somewhat cleared--for the Turks that would lead them through the wilderness while leading them open to attack from all sides. Over the winter of 1482-1483, he undertook a crash course in defensive works a la Mgeli, shutting down or flooding out many of the side roads to force any invaders onto a few selected roads, which were then fortified and made ready to be closed down at a moment’s notice. The bandons were also drilled heavily in preparation for combat, while mercenaries were contracted from every available source. The Trapezuntine navy was also recalled from Perateia and various other ports to act in a more defensive role, as Alexandros would correctly determine that they would be overwhelmed if left scattered in their positions across the Black Sea.

    In 1483, the specter that had hung over the Trapezuntine empire for decades finally manifested. Even as Ağa Paşa pushed into Greece once more, Angelović Paşa turned his attention towards the insolent state which had challenged him so. With the Venetian fleet a scattered mess, Gedik Ahmed Paşa was dispatched into the Black Sea with fifty galleys to sweep the waters of the Trapezuntine fleet. They met surprisingly little opposition, as the Trapezuntine fleet had for the most part retreated to the capital. Ahmed Paşa installed garrisons in the fortress ports of Perateia before turning south and making for the Trapezuntine Empire proper. As soon as peace was signed with Venice, an Ottoman army marched eastwards. Mustafa himself commanded this force, Angelović Paşa having encouraged the sultan to legitimize himself (and thus the grand vizier) by leading from the front. He mustered a host of some 40,000 infantry, larger already than the entire Trapezuntine army, and with a massive siege train with dozens of cannons following behind it. The sultan and the vizier were determined to crush the last remnant of Rome and solidify their own claim to the ancient empire.

    After crossing the breadth of Ottoman Anatolia in mid-spring, the Ottoman army arrived at Amastris on 26 May. The city’s small garrison surrendered without a fight and the port was swiftly occupied, significantly shortening any prospective supply lines. After taking Amastris, Mustafa then advanced eastwards along the coast road towards Sinope. He met a surprising amount of resistance, with his column coming under surprise attack several times and having to halt on the road to advance cannons to destroy fortresses guarding the roads, then re-organize the army’s formation to continue the march, then halt at the next fortress, etc, etc. After four days of marching, Mustafa quickly deducted that this was going to be a pattern and realized that he needed to find a work-around. He withdrew back to Amastris to mull over the problem, sending a number of emissaries to Trapezous to conduct negotiations in hopes of distracting his enemies while he planned. Alexandrios, while welcoming this as a potential solution to his conundrum, remained guarded and kept his soldiers in place. This would prove to be a mistake.

    One of the central tenets of Alexandros’ plan was that the Çandarid beylik would remain loyal and serve as a distraction or, at the very worst, stay neutral. As such, he had no contingency plan when a Çandarid army attacked Mersyphon in early July. The city had been assumed to be far enough in the rear to be secure from attack and thus its garrison had been siphoned off to serve more important causes. As such, the Çandarids took the city completely flat-footed and stormed in through an untended gate. Their sacking was limited, as they intended to use it as a supply center, and after a garrison was installed the Çandarids turned westwards to ravage the lower Halys Valley. In their wake came the Ottomans, moving with shocking speed and agility that swept down the Halys to the sea. Suleyman, sensing that the Trapezuntines were up a creek, had jumped ship to the Ottomans in exchange for protection and a promise that he and his descendants would rule as vassals for the next century. In return, Suleyman allowed the Ottomans to move through the Çandarid beylik to attack the Trapezuntines in their flank. Mustafa had managed to quietly transfer his soldiers around while the aftokrator was distracted with false negotiations.

    The sudden appearance of 40,000 Turks in the center of the Trapezuntine Empire threw the Trapezuntine camp into disarray. Nearly half of the Trapezuntine army had been positioned on the far bank in various manners, and they were now cut off from the vulnerable capital. Alexandros caught completely flat footed with only 20,000 men still available to him, and decided that he should try and continue his plan to wear down Turkish forces while he thought up a better one. Swallowing his pride, he summoned Mgeli back from his exile and begged the experienced general to help him, for the sake of Trapezous and the Empire. Mgeli accepted, and took over central planning for the Trapezuntine army. However, he wouldn’t have the time to affect any change before the Ottomans forced his hand.

    Amisos, a road hub who connected the western and eastern halves of the Trapezuntine Empire, was taken by the Ottomans with shocking speed. Mustafa raised his cannonade on a hill opposite the city’s harbor and opened up, smashing through the wall in a few short days. The city was then taken by storm, hundreds of Turkish soldiers rushing into the breach against only a few Trapezuntine defenders. With this city fallen, the division of Trapezuntine forces was effectively solidified, allowing the sultan a free hand for most of his army. Suspecting that similar traps as had been arrayed in Paphlagonia awaited him on the coast road to Trapezous, he opted to take an alternate route. In mid-August, 20,000 Ottoman soldiers moved with a shocking speed up the Lykos valley, brushing aside the garrisons and fortresses therein. Their sole goal were the passes over the Pontos Range, which needed to be seized before the winter snows set in.

    Mgeli sees the troop movement and anticipates where the attack is coming. Mgeli and Alexandros rush to guard the passes with most of their army, leaving only a small force to defend the coast road. The dash for the pass is manic, with the supply situation being thrown to the curb in a time of panic and desperation. However, the roads which they themselves had intentionally sabotaged hold them up, and the Trapezuntine army reaches the pass only to see horse-tail banners streaming above it. They withdraw northwards towards Trapezous in a fighting retreat, destroying bridges and further worsening the roads to stall for time. Meanwhile, Alexandros desperately ordered food and other supplies to be brought in from every available quarter and extra soldiery to be brought in to reinforce the garrison. Civilians are organized and shuttled east to Kapnanion, with the exception of some manual laborers and the gunsmiths of the city. After three weeks of skirmishing, the aftokrator and his generals are forced back into the capital on 16 September with only 15,000 soldiers, some 20,000 civilians and fifty galleys against 40,000 or more Ottomans and more galleys.

    The Siege of Trapezous had begun…..

    [1] There had been a steady stream of ship-building since Alexandros I’s reign, but this had only sufficed to maintain the size of the fleet.
    Part XX: Siege (1484-1485)
  • Eparkhos

    PS. If any of you know about the development of agricultural packages, please PM me.

    Part XX: Siege (1484-1485)

    The Greek settlers who had first founded Trapezous had chosen an excellent spot for their colony. Trapezous stood atop a large, rocky hill, which rose inward into an almost impregnable citadel, flanked on either side by plunging valleys. Centuries of construction and expansion had raised the city even further, its walls now towering tall atop sheer stone cliffs that rose hundreds of feet above the surrounding countryside. To the east, the Kontos River[1] thundered through its narrow valley, together with the city walls forming a nearly impregnable defense, and to the west a series of ridges made any direct approach without getting enfilated nigh-on impossible. The only areas where the city could potentially be stormed was along the lower town, where the city walls descended onto the coastal plain, and a small section near one of the upper gates, where a stream was diverted into a moat. However, these too had been fortified, with the aforementioned moat, a string of caltrops and spiked pitfalls leading up to a set of double walls. All in all, by the late 15th Century Trapezous was living proof of nearly two millennia of overlapping defensive works that made the city an excellent defensive center.

    Doubtless, Alexandros was glad of this as he watched the Ottomans form their siege lines around his capital. He had spent the last year and a half kicking himself for his foolhardy decision, and by the time the siege of Trapezous began he was furious, both at the Turks for reducing him to his capital and himself for allowing it to happen. He was determined to reverse his current predicament, reverse all of it, and in the unfolding siege he saw an opportunity to do so. If he could keep the Ottomans pinned down around the capital, that would sufficiently tie down Turkish forces and all Kantakouzenos Philanthropenos and the other moirarkhs to organize campaigns against their garrisons and advance forces, which would slowly grind down them and their supply lines. Hell, even the Turkish superiority at sea could be overcome, because all the good ports of the eastern Black Sea were still in Trapezuntine hands and they would either be wrecked or forced to retire once the winter winds came. Even as his empire came crashing down around him, Skantarios was excitedly planning his comeback.

    Meanwhile, in the Ottoman camp, Mustafa was plotting out how he was going to take Trapezous. The sultan had been well aware of Trapezous’ reputation for impregnability and had thoroughly studied all previous attempts to take the city. However, the true scope of the city’s defenses would not be impressed upon Mustafa until he stood in the Kontos gorge, staring up at the towers hundreds of feet above him. He quickly ruled out any attack from the east, although he did note that the nearby hills of Saint Anna and Saint Eugenios could be used as battery positions. A surveyance of the lower town in the following days saw an assault there also written off, as he recognized that crossing the combination of ditches, moats, spike, caltrops and various other impediments against hostile fire from the city walls would difficult, if not impossible. Any scouting on the western side of the city had to be undertaken with great caution, as scouting expeditions would be spotted and then fired upon the defenders, usually sending them flying back over the ridge from whence they came. However, Mustafa noted that the ridges here could also be used for batteries, and that the defenses of the Zaganios Valley were the weakest section of the perimeter and could be breached, albeit with no small amount of difficulty.

    However, he could not fully focus on taking Trapezous without first looking to his own position. The Ottoman camp was large and required a great deal of food, water and other vital materials to maintain itself, and Skantarios had taken the precaution of destroying or capturing anything of even slight value in the lands surrounding the city to deny it to the Ottomans, as well as shoring up his own conditions within the city. The sultan also suspected that he would have to deal with harassment by Pontic irregulars, which would be confirmed later on. As such, he moved his camp to the top of the nearby Tsamova Hill, which overlooked the surrounding region but was out of range of the city’s defenders’ weapons, be they bows or catapults. He also established a system of patrol relays to keep the road south across the passes clear of irregulars and escort supply caravans while the westward coast road was cleared of any traps or ambuscades. Neither of these routes could be fully secured, but it was necessary that they at the very least be passable in order to keep the besieging army secured during the winter. For the meantime, however, Ahmed Paşa[2]’s fleet brought supplies from western Anatolia to keep the besiegers in food and wares. However, the absence of sections of the galley fleet encourage an attempt at a breakout by the Trapezuntine fleet on 28 September, which saw twelve Turkish and eight Trapezuntine galleys sunk or crippled. However, Skantarios ordered the vessels to return to the harbor for unknown reasons. Unknown to the Turks, that is.

    After completing the construction of his camp, Mustafa began the siege proper on 9 October, with a thunderous artiller barrage. Several large cannons had been hauled all the way across Anatolia, and the sultan was eager to display them in action. The Turks hauled the cannons up Saint Eugenios’ hill over several days, having to use the strength of hundreds of men and horses to manhandle them up the steep incline. However, the sheer size of the cannon caused problems, as on 2 October a rope snapped and set off a chain reaction that culminated in one of the massive gun hurtling down the hill, crushing several dozen men before slamming into the Basilica of Saint of Anna at the bottom of the slope. The cannon then had to be hauled back up the hill under heavy fire, as the sound of the debacle had alerted the Trapezuntines to the Turkish ploy, which had up until then been secret. Finally, after the better part of a week, the cannon was restored to the top of the hill, defended by an earthen berm that had been dug out to prevent the Trapezuntines from firing upon them. Stores of shot and gunpowder were then pulled up the hill to the Church of Saint Eugenios, and after two days of preparations all of the cannons were ready. In a single thunderous moment, all four guns roared at once, sending more than a hundred tons of stone and metal into the walls of the Trapezuntine citadel. The barrage shattered the walls, sending massive stone blocks tumbling down the cannon below. However, the size of the guns meant that they could only be fired three times a day[3] without overheating, and so the gunnery crews got to work preparing for the next shot.

    We can imagine one of these gunners staring across the gorge at the breach in the wall, pondering if they were going to try and swing across to storm the city. The gleam of metal in the breach catches the gunner’s eye and he squints, trying to make out what it is. Is that….a cannon? By the Prophet’s Beard, these Greeks are fools, you couldn’t shoot through sheet rock with a gun that size at this range. He calls one of his friends over and they have a good chuckle at the sake of the Ponts. Then, our gunner’s friend spies a second cannon, hidden in the side of the gap and angled to their left. He calls his friends’ attention to this, and the two men follow the barrel’s angle across the gap….to Saint Eugenios.

    The church exploded in a massive fireball, the force of the blast hurling one of the cannons down into the gorge and flipping the others on their sides. Stone fragments fly though air, scything down men and horses alike for hundreds of yards in all directions from the former building. A series of secondary explosions goes off as the gunpowder within the cannons themselves goes off, causing them to backfire and send a deadly hail of bronze across the battery. The cloud from the explosion is seen from as far as the Turkish camp, and the massive detention rallies the defenders of Trapezous. Several hundred soldiers and a good portion of the Ottoman stock had been turned into a fine paste and all of the sultan’s heavy artillery was gone, having only fired one shot.

    There was a great deal of difference in Turkish and Trapezuntine gunsmithing. The former used their artillery primarily in sieges where it was used to blast through thick stone walls, thus promoting the use of large, heavy cannons that needed days to be moved but had impressively long ranges, albeit not particularly accurate ones. The Trapezuntines, however, used most of their cannon on their ships, and thus needed light, portable artillery, precise but with lesser range. Skantarios had observed the Ottomans move their cannons into position and had been waiting for the prime moment to cripple their artillery, which was presented with the destruction of the wall segment.

    After the obliteration of the heavy cannons, Mustafa was left to furiously stalk his camp. He had lost most of his heavy artillery--not all of, thankfully, there were still two more siege cannons that had gotten held up on the narrow roads over the mountains and were still en route--and was forced to strip the galleys of their few cannons in order to restore his siege corps. Not that there was much to restore anyhow, as most of the artillerymen had been killed in the explosion, and most of the few survivors had been deafened or blinded (or sometimes both) by the blast. However, this set back did not shake the sultan’s faith that a quick victory was possible. He had actually intended the bombardment of the citadel to be a distraction for an assault on the Zagnos Gate, which he had deduced was one of the weaker sections of the wall, and after grounding the naval cannons he set about making this assault a reality.

    Under the cover of nightfall, the Turks dug out a number of trenches along the ridges opposite the Zagnos Valley, as well as in more heavily concealed positions at the head of the valley. This took the better part of two weeks, as Mustafa ordered the whole thing to proceed slowly and quietly to keep the Trapezuntines from being tipped off. Finally, on the night of 28-29 October, the naval cannons were rolled into position, their bearers carrying only the minimal amount of powder to present a repeat of the previous disaster. As the guns were lagered into place, the janissaries also formed up in their camp, silent as the surrounding night. Bearing siege ladders on their backs and swords, maces and axes in their hands, the janissaries crept down the valley as the pre-dawn glow began to light the horizon.

    With a single cry, the Turkish batteries roared to life. The few sleepy Trapezuntine sentries were taken completely flat-footed, and those few who made it to their warning bells were effectively moot, as the thunder of guns was far louder than any warning cry. Soldiers poured out of their barracks like a swarm of angry wasps, but in the confusion no-one was sure what to do or where to go. Then, Skantarios appeared out of the palace, dressed only in a tunic and breastplate, shouting orders to the confused mass of men. The army--more of a disjointed mob, really--turned and rushed along the roads in the shadow of the walls to the Zagnos Gate, where ladders had now appeared on the ramparts. The Turkish cannon were doing their jobs wonderfully--they had never been intended to break through the walls, but instead to keep the walls clear while the janissaries and the men behind them rushed down the valley. Within mere minutes of the batteries opening up, the first janissaries were scaling the walls, weapons in hand. An easy victory seemed to be before them, as the pickets on this part of the wall had either been killed or fled, and the nearest watchtower[4] appeared unmanned.

    However, as the professional soldiers barreled down the causeway, a single figure appeared in the doorway of tower. An eleutheros[5], one Suvor the Karelian, happened to be in the tower when the assault began, and he quickly armed and armored himself. As the janissaries reached the tower, they bunched together to squeeze through the doorway. One by one, Suvor cut them down, refusing to give ground as he hacked away at the press of men before him. Constrained by the doorframe and the sheer number of men behind them, the janissaries were unable to fight Suvor on equal footing, and so they were carried forward by momentum into the range of the eleutheros’ axe. For ten minutes Suvor held them there, standing like a stone wall as wave after wave crashed against him. The slave soldier bought enough time for the Trapezuntines to scramble up one of the adjacent guardtowers and attack the Turks in their rear, forcing them to turn about to hold onto the vital ladders. For the next half an hour a desperate struggle raged, as Turks and Trapezuntines poured onto the battlements in equal number. Neither could make headway until a quick-thinking artillermany sawed through the barrel of his cannon and angled the stump upwards, creating a primitive mortar. With indirect cannon fire as well as arrows and quarrels falling upon them, the janissaries were finally forced back to the ladders, which were then unceremoniously pushed off the walls. Trapezous had survived the assault.

    The failed assault on the Zagnos Wall effectively marked the end of the use of cannons in the siege, as the heavy fire during the assault exhausted what little had survived the Saint Eugenios disaster. With no other option, Mustafa extended his siege lines to surround Trapezous on all sides and made preparations for a winter siege. However, he had not fully sorted out his supply situation, and the Turks were still reliant on the road over the Pontic Mountains to keep them supplied. When the passes over the mountains froze with the unset of a particularly brutal winter in mid-November, the Turks were forced to rely on the coast road to keep themselves supplied, their fleet having been forced to withdraw at the same time the snows began.

    The winter of 1484-1485 in the Ottoman camp can be rather neutrally described as ‘hellish’. There was no shortage of firewood--after all, they were in a rainforest--but in a serious oversight, Mustafa had neglected to instruct his soldiers to bring winter clothes, as the general feeling in Constantinople upon their departure was that the Trapezuntines would be crushed before the harvest even began. As such, the Turks were forced to burn more firewood than even the most optimistic Trapezuntine advisors believed they would, and soon began to have to send foraging expeditions to recover wood. However, the cold would take a back seat to the chief Turkish problem; hunger. Mustafa had been unable to scrounge up some unforeseen pile of food, and so the Turks had been forced to rely upon supply convoys to keep fed. Mustafa had anticipated that the coast road would be open by the onset of winter, and so he had not thought to build up especially large food reserves. What little food the Turks had was exhausted within a few weeks, and by mid-December the Ottomans were boiling leather. The Turks also received an unpleasant surprise on the night of 25 December, when the Trapezuntine cannons roared to life in a massive salvo. A gunsmith had discovered that by increasing the powder-to-shot ratio, cannonballs could be sent flying well beyond the range of ballistae, and the Trapezuntines used this to reign hell on the already miserable Ottomans. There was an increased number of backfires, yes, but the constant bombardment of the Turkish camp was worth it.

    After a week of non-stop shelling, Mustafa reluctantly gave in and ordered the Ottomans to break camp. They withdrew a mile to the west to the top of another nearby hill, but this new camp was exposed to the on-shore winds and had little to no drainage. A bout of plague soon broke out into the new camp, to be followed shortly afterwards by one of diphtheria. The Turks were spared cholera only be the need to boil snow to make it potable. As the winter deepened into one of the worst in recorded history in January, the Turks began to drop like flies. Death circled the camp in his many forms; disease, hunger, thirst, exhaustion due to the constant movement needed to keep warm and melancholy. But above it all, the Angel of Death was embodied by the cold, thousands dying of frostbite or hypothermia across the entirety of the winter. Hunger and the cold were a lethal combination, and many of the dead were eaten by their comrades out of sheer necessity. This only caused the ongoing disease outbreaks to worsen, and by the end of January there was hardly a man in the camp who didn’t have some sort of disease. February brought an outbreak of pneumonia, and this quickly supplanted cold as a deadly killer. By the time the winter finally broke in late March, thousands had been killed by pneumonia.

    The force that emerged from the Ottomans’ winter quarters was a shadow of its former self. An esteemed 25,000 men had been killed by the aforementioned causes, with hundreds of over disappearing into the snow drifts. Mustafa had survived, barely, and his ornamental robes now hung off his skeletal frame. There were, at best, 8,000 soldiers left to the sultan, and he knew he could not press the siege further. He gave the order to break camp and march, hoping to return to friendly territory along the coast road. The Trapezuntine army, in contrast was in fine shape, albeit on the thinner side. Strict rationing and stricter discipline had kept the army through the winter, and they were in much better shape than the Turks were, having lost only about 5,000 total due to the assault and other causes. Seeing his opportunity to route the Ottomans, Skantarios took the field as the Ottomans withdrew, hoping to win a final battle.

    The Battle of Phoinix, fought on a narrow bend of the road west of Trapezous, could barely be described as a battle. Mustafa and the few surviving janissaries, mounted on the handful of horses that hadn’t been eaten, immediately fled, and the footmen rushed after them, being run down by the more able Trapezuntines. Mustafa was hunted westwards, but ultimately managed to escape to the Turkish-held Amisos, and from there back to the Ottoman Empire.

    Trapezous had weathered the Ottoman siege (no pun intended), but the tide of Turkmen still rolled over Pontos. Skantarios had been victorious once, but he would need another miracle to restore the empire….

    [1] Greek name for the Değimenedre Stream
    [2] Turns out ‘Gedik’ was his first name. Whoops
    [3] There’s a story (likely apocryphal) that a Genoese gunner was burned at the stake because his colleagues believed that he consorted with demons to gain the ability to fire his cannon five times a day.
    [4] There were exactly two towers on this section of the wall, which was partly protected by the ruins of an ancient aqueduct that made direct assault on the rightward half of the wall difficult.
    [5] Singular form of eleutheroi. Also, remember his name.
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    Part XXI: A Calculary Update
  • Eparkhos

    Part XXI: A Calculary Update (1484-1485)[1]

    The Çandarid betrayal and the subsequent invasion of the Halys valley had bifurcated both the Empire and the Trapezuntine army. Alexandros was left with only 20,000 men against the 40,000 Ottomans now bearing down on the capital, but against all odds he had prevailed in the following struggle and the Turks had been repulsed. While the Turks had succeeded in dividing their enemy’s forces, they had been unable to destroy either, and as the Ottoman remnant tried to regroup at Amisos, they would soon be acquainted with the other half of the Pontic army.

    When the Ottomans had stormed down the river, the response of the units on its western side had been slow. Many of them were anxiously anticipating the arrival of a Tuirkish force from the west and so were slow to react to an invasion from their rear, with many of the moirarkhs concluding that it was in fact a diversionary strike to draw them off of the road. The Trapezuntine command hierarchy had been intentionally loosened so as to not leave a central target for the Turks, and so it took days, sometimes weeks, for word to spread that this was not in fact a diversion. Even worse, Kantakouzenos Philanthropenos, the highest ranking general on the left bank of the Halys, had the misfortune to be in Amisos at the time of the Ottoman storm and was so captured, leaving the leadership of the western elements completely up in the air. A brief period of anarchy then took over, with moirarkhs alternatively declaring themselves supreme generals, refusing to leave their posts to do anything other than forage for food or begin looting Pontic settlement. In mid-September, as the Turks were approaching Trapezous, someone was finally able to assert control. Konstantinos Palaiogeos[2], one of the moirarkhs charged with defending the Sinope road, seized the great port city himself and, with the assent of the city’s eparkhos, proclaimed himself as commander of the western army. With the largest city in the region under his control, the other moirarkhs either reluctantly submitted to his command or were smacked down.

    As he weighed upon what to do next, there were two substantial factors affecting Palaiogeos’ decision-making process. The first was that Trapezous was almost certainly going to fall within a few months; There was a massive Ottoman army sitting outside the city, the Turks had naval superiority, and there was little he could do to rescue his home city. The second was that Sinope, the second city of the Trapezuntine Empire, was for now secure. As such, Palaiogeos concluded that his best aspiration ought to be to secure and defend Sinope from any threats to the city, and secondly to attempt to force the Ottomans to abandon the siege of Trapezous. He had the army to do both partially, but if he became overly aggressive then the Ottomans would fall upon him like the Damoclesian sword.

    He mustered the soldiers of the western army at Sinope, leaving behind only a small force of pickets to guard the western road in case the Çandarids came back for a second crack against the Trapezuntines. The force which assembled there numbered some 15,000 almost entirely from the bandons. Needing to counterbalance the two above necessities, he rotated through this force in blocks of 5,000 each, which gave him a large enough force to operate against the Turkish rear without leaving Sinope exposed to the depredations of the Turkish fleet which now sailed across the Black Sea. Leading from the front like any self-respecting commander of the Renaissance, he lead this smaller force on a raid into the Halys valley. Mustafa had tasked the Çandarids with defending the supply lines here, but Suleyman had departed with a sizeable portion of his horde to ravage the Lykos valley, a region whose future governance he did not have to be concerned about[3]. As such, the supply trains were left with only a minimal protective force, all in all coming to less than two hundred bored and undisciplined Çandarid horsemen scattered across the valley. Palaiogeos was thus able to operate almost without concern for his flanks, attacking three caravans both near Amisos and further up the valley before retreating back to the forested coast in mid-October. As he had hoped, this provoked a response from both Suleyman and Mustafa, the latter chastizing his vassal for not following his instructions to the letter. Hoping to have his cake and eat it too, Suleyman dispatched 2,000 Çandarid horsemen (he greatly underestimated the strength of Palaiogeos) under one of the tribal lords, Mengu Mehmed, to guard the caravans. Mengu Mehmed held very little love for Suleyman, and the ambitious feudatory hoped to impress the sultan and be elevated to the Çandarid throne as a promising vassal. He, too, had underestimated the strength of the surviving Trapezuntine force, and so in the closing weeks of October he followed the trail of Palaiogeos into the forests. Unaware of the size of his opponent, the Çandarids ranged out through the underbrush in search of their enemy. Palaiogeos moved swiftly to intercept, and on 28 October, the chief Turkish camp was surrounded and massacred. The other expeditions were hunted down or fled back out into the lowlands, telling fantastical rumors of demonic Ponts who emerged from the trees like spirits of the woods.

    However, this success on the battlefield would be overshadowed by a near-disaster in the north. As the waves of the Black Sea were whipped up by Cimmerian winds, the Kapudan Paşa knew that he must find a safe anchorage to ride out the winter storms[4]. Trapezous, with its large fleet of galleys still riding at anchor inside the port, wasn’t an option, and neither was Batumi or Kapnanion, which were still in Trapezuntine hands. Amisos had been a potential anchorage, but the berms which surrounded the harbord had been torn up during the storming before being burned by the Pontic fleet as they fled north across the sea. As such, it could not be used. Rather than retiring all the way back to Ottoman lands, Ahmed Paşa eyed up Sinope as a potential conquest. Taking the city would kill two birds with one stone by securing a harbor a for him and reducing the second city of the Trapezuntine. In early November, the Ottoman fleet appeared on the horizon, bearing directly for the city. The eparkhos of the city, Nikephoritzes, recognized the coming attack and raised the people of the city to arms, sending word to the army camp located outside the walls. However, due to a miscommunication, the Trapezuntines did not break camp until nearly three hours later, when it was almost too late. The Ottoman fleet stormed into the harbor, brushing aside the few armed merchantmen in the harbor before beaching themselves, their crews scrambling overboard and assaulting the walls. The city guards were nearly overwhelmed but managed to hold the line until reinforcements arrived, with the Ottomans only successfully taking one of the six towers around the harbor. Seeing that he was now outnumbered, Ahmed Paşa ordered his men to retreat to their ships. The Ottomans then fled west to friendly anchorage at Pontoherakleia, where they would spend the rest of the winter.

    The Trapezuntine army survived the winter in far better condition than their Ottoman counterparts outside of Trapezous. There had been no siege to deplete the resources of the surrounding lands, and some of the local bandons had been stood down and ordered to return to farming in order to keep the food rolling in. In spite of this, Palaiogeos instituted strict rationing to make sure that they didn’t run out of food. There was far more people who needed to be accounted for--the total population of Sinope and the surrounding lands was 30,000, not counting the army--and so the general was fearful (some might say paranoid) of an unforeseen disaster occuring. Thanks to his careful planning and allocation, the only losses taken during the winter months being to the usual outbreaks of camp diseases. When the Trapezuntines emerged from winter quarters in mid-March, they were in fine order.

    After processing reports coming out of the east, Palaiogeos concluded that the Ottomans had been heavily ground down by disease and cold. As such, he decided to take the daring step of moving directly against the garrisons in the Halys valley. 10,000 Trapezuntines marched out of the forest in the first day of April, following the coast road to Amisos. The city had been devastated by the cold, as the Ottoman commander had been unable to impose discipline on the mixture of Ottomans and Çandarid, and when the Trapezuntine army arrived outside the city, they found it almost abandoned. However, the surviving Turkish garrison was determined to hold out and so expelled the Pontic population of the city while beginning desperate preparations for a siege. A few slaves were kept behind to work on the walls, which still needed to be repaired after the previous year’s bombardment, but there was more than enough food for these men and the Turks to hold out for several months. Palaiogeos, with little to no cannon available to him, drew up siege lines around the port city and decided to try and starve them out. By this point, he had concluded that the Ottoman siege had failed, as his scouts along the coast road reported nothing but frozen bodies.

    As such, Palaiogeos was caught completely flat-footed when a small Turkish forces appeared out of the wilderness, making a mad dash for the city. The Ottomans fought through a weak section of the lines and escaped into the city before the Trapezuntines could react, leaving Palaiogeos to frustratedly wonder who and what was now inside the city. He was absolutely infuriated when the advance guard of Skantarios’ force arrived a few days later and informed him that the Sultan himself was inside the city. The rest of the Trapezuntine army arrived a few days later, and the situation in the west was quickly relayed to the basileus.

    Skantarios was equally angry, as he had hoped to capture the sultan and thus ensure a miracle victory, but found his victory denied to him by either misfortune or, as many in the camp speculated, treachery. Several members of the army from Trapezous were whispering amongst themselves that Palaiogeos had survived with his force intact by striking a deal with the Ottomans, by the terms of which he had given Mustafa safe passage. These rumors evidently struck a cord in Skantarios. We must remember that the Trapezutines were cut from the same cloth as the Romans and Byzantines before them, and they all believed that military victory was a sign of God’s favor. If the sitting basileus had been barely able to escape with the capital intact while this jumped-up general was out scoring victories against the invaders, perhaps then God wanted a new man on the throne? Such rumors needed to be quashed immediately. On 22 April, Palaiogeos was arrested on charges of subversion against the nation by promoting himself to general and blinded. Several of his followers then revolted, which was then brutally put down. Palaiogeos was then executed to prevent any further rebellions, and his body was buried in an unmarked grave near Amisos.

    After executing the upstart, Skantarios went about business as usual. He kept up the siege while dispatching forces to secure the Halys valley from any follow up raids. He attempted to negotiate with Mustafa, but the Sultan was surprisingly hostile given one in his position. The reason why became apparent in early May when the small Trapezuntine blockade force was shattered and driven off by Ahmed Paşa and his flotilla. They landed in the city and evacuated the garrison, setting fire to the port as they left.

    Any hope for a decisive victory had been lost. The Trapezuntines may had driven off the Ottomans, but, as Angelović Paşa would shortly write; “In besieging Trapezous we have cut off your arm, in defeating us you have merely cut off a finger.”

    The storm still raged.

    [1] This was supposed to be part of the next update but got too long.
    [2] This translates as ‘Konstantinos the Old Farmer’.
    [3] Mustafa had promised the Halys Valley to the Çandarids, as the Ottomans could not realistically govern this region and looked to secure their prospective conquests from the Karamanides.
    [4] It occurred to you that many of you may not have a good understanding of just how fierce the Black Sea can be in winter. I recommend you watch
    this video, and imagine trying to sail across that in a wooden galley.
    Part XXII: Union (Fields of Saint Eugenios) (1485-1487)
  • Eparkhos

    Part XXII: Union (Fields of Saint Eugenios) (1485-1487)

    Mustafa had escaped death at Amisos only to die back in Constantinople. The battle-weary sultan had fled the city as it burned around him and retired back to his capital with the rest of the Ottoman fleet, buffeted by unseasonal storms. Upon landing back in Constantinople, he was greeted not by jubilant crowds but instead by a stony silence. When Mustafa returned to the palace, he found a page waiting, asking him to go to the throne room. He did so, and found Angelović Paşa sitting upon the sultan’s seat. The grand vizier bluntly told him that he had failed the Ottoman Empire and was unworthy to be sultan, and that his son Mehmed (at this time merely three years old) would make a better ruler. The sultan’s guards then strangled him, and a few hours later Mehmed III was proclaimed[1].

    With the death of Mustafa, Angelović Paşa had been able to smoothly transfer the blame for the failed expedition to the late sultan. God’s anger, which had manifested itself outside the walls of Trapezous, had been satisfied, and the grand vizier was now free to go about ruling without a headstrong puppet to deal with. His first objective was the capture of Trapezous, which glittered ever more brightly in his eyes because of the failure of the previous sack. He could prove that he was superior to one of the descendants of Osman and thus secure his position, as well as the benefits that would be brought by taking such a valuable center of trade and eliminating one of his maritime rivals.

    Throughout 1485, he ordered the Ottoman fleet to be expanded furthermore, with an estimated size of a hundred-and-two hulls to be completed by 1487. He wouldn’t even bother to try and attack the Trapezuntines with what time was left in the campaign season, as there was too great a risk of winding up in a position to Mustafa’s the previous winter. Instead he made preparations, drilling new recruits and casting new cannons to replace the ones lost the previous year. He was cognizant that the Trapezuntines would still be hostile but concluded that false negotiations wouldn’t work again, and so he coldly and plainly rebuffed envoys of peace that were sent to Constantinople that year.

    However, he was not the only one taking advantage of the lull in the fighting to prepare for the next round. Skantarios had received word of the regime change in Constantinople only weeks after it had happened, and he had deduced that Angelović Paşa would now make a second attack on Trapezous in hopes of legitimizing himself. As such, he was making a series of hurried preparations for continued war, starting with defensive works. With the Achilles’ hell of the empire revealed by Çandarid betrayal the previous year, the line of fortresses was extended south the hill country around Mersyphon, effectively shielding the Halys Valley from further attacks after the last of the Çandarids were chased out over the summer. Most importantly, he looked abroad for foreign aid. Trapezous’ small manpower reserves had been exhausted by the previous year’s campaign and the need to disband the bandons to prevent famines, and the aftokrator could raise no more native soldiers. The usual host of mercenaries was called upon, but these too were fairly insignificant in comparison to the previous year’s. Thus, the Trapezuntines were forced to rely upon the strength of their allies.

    The Kartvelians had received the Trapezuntine call-to-arms back in 1484. Alek’sandre has imprisoned the envoys in a small prison on the side of a mountain so that they could not bring word back of this refusal, and for the next few months he studiously pretended that they had never arrived, throwing further couriers into the same prison. This was entirely understandable for the mountaineers, as it looked to all the world like the Trapezuntines were going to get their teeth kicked in. However, word of the surprising survival of the capital, as well as a personal appearance by the dowager Keteon, who was too high-ranking to be simply dumped in the prison like the rest, finally pushed Alek’sandre to answer the call to arms. While the 120,000 men that Giorgi VIII had promised the Pope for his crusade in the 1450s was far too many to be realistically mustered, the Kartvelians could still field an army much larger than that of the Trapezuntines. 15,000 footmen, 10,000 skirmishers and gathered at Tbilisi in May 1485, and under the leadership of the king himself they marched eastward, reinforcing with 5,000 light horsemen from Samtskhe.

    A similar appeal to the Qoyunlus had also gone unanswered, although due to far more honorable circumstances. Ya’qub Beg, the son of Uzun Hasan, had undertaken a program of wide-reaching reforms upon ascending to the throne, and these reforms had been displeasing to many. In 1482, a group of ulema in the distant Khorasani provinces, motivated by the seizure of their traditional lands, proclaimed a jihad against Ya’qub and all his supporters. This sparked a massive revolt on the eastern edge of the empire, and it took Ya’qub a great deal of time to muster a host large enough to meet these rebels. In 1484, however, he had marched east at the head of an army of nearly 50,000, thus missing the summons of Skantarios by a few mere weeks. Ya’qub Beg had utterly crushed the rebels on the field of Eshrag, and now busied himself with the pacification of the province. A second call-to-arms reached him mid-1485, and he sent the envoys back with a promise to join the Trapezuntines the following campaign season, once he had finished his domestic business. Thus, a large and potentially tide-turning ally was securing for Pontos, if they could last long enough for the cavalry to arrive[2].

    However, word of this reached Angelović Paşa in Constantinople in mid-August and he was forced to accelerate his plans of invasion, as the intervention of the Qoyunlu could easily spell disaster for his, I mean, Mehmed’s realm. He sped up the training of the new soldiers, even going so far as to purchase a few thousand mamluks from the Mamluks that autumn. The galleys would not be completed in time, and thus the Ottomans would be forced to operate with a fleet roughly on par with the newly-expanded Trapezuntines. Conventional wisdom held that newly-built galleys were almost worthless for their first two years, but this was still far from a happy prospect. In late September, Angelović Paşa consorted with several of the mystics who had settled in Constantinople and concluded that this winter would be far milder than the previous one, and thus he resolved to shoulder the many risks inherent in winter campaigning. He mustered his men on the fields of Bithynia as the harvest was being collected, bringing together a host of 30,000 infantry, 5,000 light horsemen and an infernal amount of cannons.

    The grand vizier and his army turned and marched westward along the coast of the Black Sea. Scouts ranged far ahead of the army to make sure that they were not ambushed in the rough terrain and rougher weather of the coast. Contact was made with the Çandarids, but Suleyman, fearing that he may have backed a losing horse, made empty promises of support while planning to abandon the Ottomans as soon as possible. Satisfied and believing that his flanks were secure, Angelović Paşa continued on into hostile territory. The many traps and snares that had been set along the coast road had been mostly abandoned after the previous winter, and so the Ottomans were able to make swift progress into Paphlagonia. By the end of November, they had reached a crossroads only twenty miles west of Sinope. The grand vizier, however, had no intention of besieging the city, as he had no desire to bog himself down in a winter siege like Mustafa had. Instead, he hoped to bring the Trapezuntines to battle and defeat them decisively, then set about reducing their fortresses over the rest of that year and the next.

    However, he had made the foolish mistake of trusting the word of a proven traitor. As soon as he had recieved word of the Ottoman arrival, Suleyman had sent horsemen to shadow their progress along the coast road. He then contacted Skantarios, whom he had concluded would be victorious with the aid of the Qoyunlu the following year, and offered detailed information on the whereabouts of the invading Ottoman force in exchange for clemency for his previous betrayal. News that there was an invading Turkish army shocked the aftokrator, who believed that no more fighting would occur that year and had already entered winter camp at Mersyphon, and he reluctantly agreed. The Kartvelians had camped nearby, and within a few days a mighty host of nearly 50,000 had been assembled. The Trapezuntines began a desperate countermarch, moving along the smaller side roads of the interior in hopes of waylaying the Ottoman force. Their supply situation was actually much worse than that of the invaders, as the previous years’ depredations had stripped much fodder from the normally fertile Pontic hills. However, the possibility of an ambush was not lost upon the king and the aftokrator, and many of the Samtskheote cavalry ranged ahead along the coast road like their Turkic counterparts. These riders were commanded by the vassal bey of Samtskhe, Qvarqvare II, who had revolted against Giorgi several times in the preceding years.

    The snows were beginning to set in by the time the two armies met. Samtskheote out-riders made contact with the Ottomans on 19 December near the town of Saint Eugenios, on the eastern edge of the Halys delta. They were swiftly captured by the Turks before they had time to report their sighting, and were brought before the Grand Vizier. Angelović Paşa asked what they were doing in the service of the kafirs, and what they thought would happen to their souls if they fell in the service of the infidels against the House of Islam. The Turkmen who lived on the plains of Samtskhe were recent converts to Islam and were thus shamed for seemingly forsaken their newfound faith. Either swayed or executed, the Samtskheotes then returned to the camp and gave false reports of an Ottoman foraging expedition spotted several miles north of Saint Eugenios. Alexandros concluded that they were attempting to secure an anchorage for a fleet bringing reinforcements, and thus they had to stopped as soon as possible. Thus, the allies broke camp and marched north-eastward on 21st December, the shortest day of the year.

    The snow had turned the air into a grey-and-white haze that made it nearly impossible to see more than a few hundred yards (essentially meters) in any direction and muffled the sound of marching feet. As such, the Orthodox were caught unawares when a volley of arquebus fire suddenly came from their left flank. The given report and marching plan had sent the Trapezuntines and Kartvelians off in such a manner that their flanks were left open to enemy assault, a fact which Angelović Paşa made good use of. Before the allies could turn about to face their attackers, a wall of timariote cavalry thundered into their flank, trampling through the outer ranks and crushing men beneath their hooves. The heavy horsemen wreaked havoc in the ranks of the allies before Skantarios appeared at the head of a formation of eleutheroi and drive them off with a bristling pike hedge. However, this attack had cost the allies the time they needed to maneuver into position, and before the footmen could do anything but about-face another volley of arquebus fire shattered the sudden quiet of the darkened day.

    The Ottomans advanced stiffly, almost robotically, envigored by the presence of their commander and their heavy training but still nervous about facing the men whom they believed had already destroyed a similar army. The Trapezuntines and Kartvelians, for their part, were gripped by a mixture of confusion and fear, none of them having expected to face battle that day. Quick prayers were said by the rank-and-file of both armies before they locked horns. The Ottomans were packed densely together, in contrast to the more dispersed Trapezuntine soldiers, and they quickly began to push them back. The white snow was stained the crimson red of blood as the shouts and scream of battle were wicked away by the fierce and gusting winds. The Trapezuntines were in poor order along many sections of the line thanks to the timariotes, and were struggling to push back against the Turkish spears. The Kartvelians, however, had been mostly spared this assault and were in much better order. Alek’sandre galloped down the line to the thick of the fighting to ascertain what was going on, only to be nearly run through and sent back to the front of the column in a flurry of arrows. However, Vamaq the Mingrelian[3], the Duke of Mingrelia, saw this and believed the king’s flailing to avoid being shot was the signal to advance and so ordered his men forward. The Mingrelians swung into the Turkish flank, taking many of the Ottomans by surprise and quickly rolling up the Turkish flank as the pikemen struggled to turn about and face the new assault. Alek’sandre, seeing this, ordered the rest of the Kartvelians to do likewise, and 15,000 Kartvelian highlanders piled into the vulnerable side of the Turkish formation. Angelović Paşa attempted to drive them off with an assault by the janissaries, but was unable to muster the forces to do so, having sent most of his reserves to follow the Turkish cavalry in their assault on the allied left. The following movements were strange, and would have looked like a bizarre dance from above. The Kartvelians forced the Ottomans back, bringing enough of a reprieve for the Trapezuntines to pull back and reorient themselves to face south, towards the attacking Turkish forces. The Ottomans, meanwhile, regrouped and rallied around the grand vizier, facing north into the allied ranks. The fighting had rotated nearly 90 degrees around the battlefield.

    The two lines rejoined each other here, but the fighting was noticeably less fierce. The footmen were tired, exhausted by wounds, the cold and several hours of fighting. The Ottoman horse, which may have turned the battle in the Turks’ favor had pursued the loyal Samtskheotes off the field and lost all contact with the Turkish command. With no decisive factor, the battle slowed to a halt as the cold and disspirited men lost the will to fight. The onset of the early night provided the perfect opportunity for both armies to retire from the field in good order. The battle, the bloodiest of Notaras’ War, had lasted a mere four and a half hours.

    That night, in their makeshift camps, the three rulers counted their losses. The allies had lost nearly 10,000 men either dead or crippled, while the Turks had lost 8,978[4]. The loss to the Turks had been much greater due to the smaller size of the army, but there was still the Ottoman cavalry that was currently in the wind and could easily turn the tide of battle. No-one was confident that they would be able to win the following battle, and in such a precarious war a single defeat could mean the loss of it all. The next morning, the aftokrator, the king and the sultan rode out to the space between their armies to sue for peace. The greatest concern for Alexandros was the retention of his realm as an independent state, while Angelović Paşa needed a victory to shore up domestic support for his regime. These goals weren’t entirely conflicting, and after a brief negotiation the three rulers concluded a peace. The Trapezuntines would become tributaries of the Sublime Porte, to pay a yearly sum of exactly one Venetian ducat every year. The overlordship of the Çandarids would also be transferred to Constantinople. The grand vizier had come to suspect that Suleyman had betrayed him and wanted no foreign interference in his destruction of this upstart realm. The Kartvelians would also receive trading rights in the ports of the Ottoman Empire (one of Alek’sandre’s chief ambitions was the enrichment of his kingdom by the expansion of trade with the Latins) and a truce would be conducted between the three states to last the next quarter-century.

    The so-called “Snowy Peace” was agreeable to all parties, and the next day the two armies decamped. The allies would shadow the Ottomans out of the Empire but never attack, merely wanting to be sure that they had truly left the rainforests of the Pontic coast. After the Ottomans were escorted beyond Abana, the Trapezuntines and Kartvelians turned for home. The ancient alliance between the two states had saved Trapezous, as without the aid of their brothers in faith they would have been surely destroyed on the fields of Saint Eugenios. The Trapezuntines would repay this debt a decade later, but for now their rapprochement was limited to a number of gifts given to the Kartvelians by Alexandros during their stopover in Trapezous.

    The losses of Notaras’ War had devastated the Trapezuntine Empire, causing tens of thousands of death, the destruction of thousands of neahyperpyras worth of goods and livestock and the enslaving of thousands. It would take years to fully recover, but the Empire itself still stood. So long as the fires of Rome still burned, the Empire of old was never truly dead….

    [1] Angelović Paşa was unwilling to crown himself sultan, as this would cause a succession crisis that would tear the rump Ottoman Empire in twain.
    [2] Bad pun completely intended,
    [3] Butterflies mean that Vamaq never revolts and is subsequently not killed, preserving his considerable military skill for Kartvelia.
    [4] The Turks kept much more precise records that the Trapezuntines.
    Part XXIII: Recovery (1486-1495)
  • Eparkhos

    Part XXIII: Recovery (1486-1495)

    Notaras’ War had done an immense amount of damage to the Trapezuntine Empire. Several years of armies criss-crossing the narrow Pontic coast had destroyed much of the infrastructure there and caused the dispersing of the agricultural centers which were scattered across the long and winding coast of Trapezous. Dozens of villages had been leveled and their inhabitants carried off in chains, leavin large swathes of the country depopulated. It would take the better part of the next decade to recover from the devastation, and these efforts would come to define the popular conception of Alexandros’ long reign. In spite of the destruction of Notaras’ War, the Trapezuntines would emerge once again….

    Throughout the war, bands of Turkmen raiders had ranged along the Halys and the Lykos valleys, utterly devastating those regions These raids had not ended with the war either, as most of these raiders were either from independent bands, mercenary hosts run amok, or nominal vassals of either the Karamanides of Samtskhe. As such, Alexandros was forced to turn his army southward to face these raiders. Across the campaign seasons of 1486 and 1487, the Trapezuntines repulsed several assaults on the exposed valleys, driving the nomads back onto the plateau from whence they came. The Trapezuntines then set about reestablishing the Alexandrian fort system through the ridges and hills that formed their southern border, which in turn took several years to be completed. All-in-all, the costs of reforming and consolidating the southern region came to several thousand neahyperpyra per year, not including the costs of maintaining the forts and their garrisons. Supposedly, Alexandros even considered abandoning everything south of the mountains and pulling back to Pontos proper, but quickly dismissed this notion.

    Withdrawal wouldn’t have been completely absurd, however. Half a decade spent at the tender mercies of the Turkmen with the bandons in the field elsewhere had seen the population of the Lykos and Halys valley almost completely extinguished. The total number of residents in the valleys had crashed from around 75,000 to 10,000, many of the survivors being members of the bandons who had been at arms when the raids had occurred. Faced with this great swathe of land that had far more bachelors than there were single women across the Empire, Alexandros had to get creative to turn the region into a productive area once again. The first step--inviting Armenians from Cilicia and Circassians from the north shore of the Black Sea to settle there--brought in a great deal of potential subjects, but just wasn’t enough to fully settle the land. So Alexandros and Patriarch Kyrillos, who had taken office after Funa’s death a few years before, put their heads together.

    The result was a series of slave raids into Turkmen territory to capture potential wives for the soldiers. Nominally, of course, this was to secure new converts for the church and exact revenge for the ravages of the previous years, but to call it anything other than slaving is putting lipstick on a pig. However, it was a successful campaign, with several thousand Turkmen (Turkwomen?) being captured, forcefully baptized and then married off to various bandonoi. These operations would begin in 1488 and would continue until 1493, when the needs of the state had been met. This practice would be revitalized several more times in Trapezuntine history.

    Similar depredations had languished against the great breadths of Pontos proper, but they never caused nearly as much destruction. True, roads (and in some cases entire villages) had to be rebuilt at great cost to the state, but they did not require the extraordinary methods that the lands of rivers had. In most cases, Lazes from more densely populated areas were brought in to farm the abandoned territory, or the usual mixture of Armenians/Circassians/Western Greeks were settled in the region. Amisos, notably was settled by a group of Genoese exiles, who turned their mercantile ability to the benefit of the Trapezuntine Empire.

    Speaking of trade, Notaras’ War and the sack of Genoa had both had massive impacts on the world of Mediterranean trade. One of the great trading centers of the known world had been burned to the ground and the Venetians, who would’ve been best posed to exploit this, had been effectively expelled from the Black Sea and northern Aegean due to the war. Two other major trading ports, Trapezous and Damascus, had also been shuttered to trade due to siege and plague, respectively. Merchants across the Meditteranean suddenly found themselves having to pay exponentially more for eastern goods, and merchants in Arabia found themselves having to pay far more for western goods. This created a mercantile vacuum, especially in the Ligurian Sea, which had a number of interesting effects, most notably the creation of the Tabriz--Vatoume[1]--Caladda (Galati) route, which cut the Ottomans off from a great deal of their trade revenue by eliminating the need to pass through the straits.

    Enter one Cristoffa Corombo, or as he is known in the Anglophone world, Christopher Columbus. Corombo was practically born with salt in his veins, having first gone to sea in 1460 at the age of nine. He had spent his young adulthood as a business agent of the wealthy Spinola family, earning him a great deal of money and fame as a veteran merchant. He was absent from Genoa at the time of its sack, carrying a cargo of silks back from the Levant, and saw an opportunity for personal advantage. He turned his ship eastwards towards his home town of Savona. The Savonese had been unwilling subjects of Genoa for centuries, and so when Corombo sailed into the city harbor and announced its downfall, the people erupted into cheers. In a makeshift election, Corombo was elected the first Doge of Savona.

    With the command of the town, Corombo leapt into action. In the following weeks, he led a small armada along the Ligurian coast, seizing former Genoese holdings and forcing them to acknowledge the Savonese as their new overlords. In this way, he was able to assume the mantle of overlord of the Ligurian cities, cementing Savona as a major trading center. He also made peace with the Milanese, securing his landward face and allowing him to turn his gaze to the sea. Savona quickly blossomed into a large center of trade, nearly as large as old Genoa had once been. The Savonese stepped into the shoes of the Genoese, negotiating the old republic’s privileges from both the Ottomans and Mamluks, which helped them to extend their trade network across the eastern Mediterranean. Of course, they had several problems with the Venetians, but the Savonese were able to hand the Venetians an upset victory at the Battle of Ustica in 1492, which forced the Adriatic republic to acknowledge the Ligurian upstarts as equals. However, while the Savonese spread their net wide, they failed to extend their network to the old Genoese holdings in the Black Sea. The cause of this was quite simple: The Trapezuntines.

    The Snowy Peace had made a non-aggression pact, in the closest modern sense, between the Trapezuntines and the Ottomans to last for the next quarter century. Alexandros believed that after this elapsed--and quite possibly before--the two states were doomed to war against each other once again. As such, he intended to do everything in his power to weaken the Sublime Porte’s position. The diplomatic aspects of these efforts will be covered in the next part, so for now let us focus on the maritime and mercantile efforts that the aftokrator made to improve his own position. Firstly, the navy was built up massively, with most of the small remaining treasury being poured into the construction of new vessels to expand the fleet. Secondly, every effort was made to reduce the amount of trade that was passing through the Bosporus. Tariffs and sound tolls on the straits were one of the great boons afforded to the rump Ottoman state, and these needed to be reduced to the lowest feasible amount. Obviously, direct attack against the port was suicidal, but there were still many indirect courses of action that could be taken.

    Most importantly, an emphasis was placed on alternate routes to the west. As aforementioned, during the siege and Notaras’ War a secondary trading route had begun to develop, with unblockaded Vatoume serving as a jumping-off board for the Crimea, from which merchants would sail due west and eventually up the Danube to the river ports of Moldova and Wallachia. This route had a good bit of potential, most notably because it significantly cut the travel time to markets in Central Europe by traveling directly there along the Danube. Alexandros tweaked this route slightly, promoting trading in the capital city itself to reduce the inherent corruption in collecting tariffs. He also reduced mooring fees for the Crimean port of Caulita and founded Alexandria[2] Khersoneia in a strategic bay on the western end of the peninsula[3]. Traffic was encouraged to pass through Sinope, which significantly cut the amount of time they had to spend in open water as well as funneling merchants from across Paphlagonia into a Pontic-controlled city. Perhaps most importantly, in 1487 the Trapezuntines negotiated a treaty with the Moldovans and Wallachians that allowed merchants coming from Caulita or Alexandria to pay a mere half of tariffs merchants from other ports did. This had its intended effect, and within a few years Caladda had expanded greatly. Its rival city, Proliava[4], cut its own rates even further to try to draw trade and settled a number of German and Jewish craftsmen and traders (respectively) to further make itself more attractive. As a result, Caladda and Proliava would become centers of the Vlachian Renaissance in the following decades. The Ottomans saw their total income fall as trade on the northern route increased, but there was little they could do but try to attract trade themselves. Constantinople remained an important trading center, but lost its mantle as gateway between the East and West to Trapezous and the Wallachian ports.

    All of this trade income was an important substitute for falling tax revenues. In order to restore the realm’s population size to what it had been before the war (and in many cases, to avoid all-out famine), hearth taxes had been dramatically lowered. The taxes on livestock, which had been reinstituted by Mgeli, had also become impossible to enforce, as many herders or headsmen hid their stock before surveying and claimed that they had been made off with by a horde of Turkmen. Throwing up his hands, Alexandros II did as his grandfather had and abrogated the taxes altogether.

    All of these economic developments, of course, took a back seat to the ongoing diplomatic efforts, which occupied the bulk of the attention of both the aftokrator and the Empire at large….

    [1] Batumi was renamed to the Pontic ‘Vatoume’ upon its conquest in 1481, but I have neglected to display this in my writing up to this point. My apologies.
    [2] Supposedly named after Alexandros I, the naming of this city caused a great deal of scandal at the Trapezuntine court, as many believed that Alexandros II had named it after himself. In particular, there was a great deal of contrast between the all conquering Alexandros the Great and Alexandros II, whom had barely survived the war with the Ottomans. This actually caused the publication of the first printed book in Trapezuntine history, Ho Polemoi ton Alexandros Megalos ke oi Strategou Tou in 1485, but that is a story for another time.
    [3] Alexandria was founded at modern Sevastopol, on the ruins of the ancient colony of Khersonesos
    [4] Proliava is modern Braila. At this time, there was a growing rivalry between the Moldovans and the Wallachians, and the city received a great deal of money from the Voivode in an attempt to spite the Moldovans of their trade.

    This is twelve words to make a round two thousand word total.
    Part XXIV: The Spider's Web (1486-1493)
  • Eparkhos

    Part XXIV: The Spider’s Web (1486-1493)

    Much has been made of the ancestral alliance between Trapezous and Kartvelia. The former state had come into existence (and some might say continued to exist) by the discretion of the latter, and the two Orthodox realms had fought alongside each other many times, be it against heathen or heretic. One of the more notable of these conflicts was Notaras’ War, which saw the imperiled Trapezuntines rescued from destruction by the Turks by the force of Kartvelian arms. This alliance would be the ideal to which Alexandros would aspire in the many treaties which he concluded after this close call with the Ottomans, though only time would tell whether any of them would reach it.

    The first of these treaties would be concluded with the Qoyunlu. While the combined force of Trapezuntine and Kartvelian arms had repulsed the Turkish horde, it had been the threat of intervention by the other Turkish horde that led the grand vizier to foolishly accelerate his plans. The alliance between Trapezous and Tabriz was by now a long-lasting one, the two states having pledged to protect the other since Alexandros I had taken the throne all the way back in 1449. Multiple marriages had been conducted between the two states in the intervening span of time, and the houses of Hasan and Komnenos were thoroughly tied together. Skantarios correctly identified this alliance as being crucial to his state’s continued survival and so worked to improve relations with his cousin’s realm. A series of envoys were dispatched to Ya’qub Beg’s court in Tabriz between 1486 and the end of Alexandros II’s reign, and these did much to improve relations between the two states.

    It was a crucial time to be shoring up their relationship, for the Qoyunlu Horde was swiftly transitioning into a proper empire. The reign of Uzun Hasan had seen the promotion of native Persians and Arabs to positions of high power, and his son had not seen fit to curtail this trend. Indeed, Ya’qub Beg had fully embraced the fact that he ruled over the ruins of a bureaucratic empire and begun to shift power away from the traditional tribal elders towards his newly-created (and constantly expanding) palace corps. This saw the power of his state increase every year, as intensive and all-encompassing tax codes were drafted and the mobilization of landed soldiers became increasingly easy. Obviously, this didn’t go over well with everyone--see the Khorasani Revolt of 1482--but many of the Turkmen were willing to go along with it, as Ya’qub Beg lavished increasing privileges upon them. Unbeknownst to them, however, their liege was plotting to have them done away with. The Turkmen tribes were rowdy and chaotic, equally likely to treat their subjects well as they were to massacre or enslave them wholesale. As the 1480s drew on, they became increasingly agitating, with many of the smaller tribes waging undeclared war against each other for prestige and personal gain. All of this struggle came down hardest on the sedentary farmers, as they were unable to migrate away from the war zones as the Turkmen could. A quick overlook of his empire revealed that there were far more Arabs and Persians than there were Turkmen, and so Ya’qub Beg concluded that the former would be a far better base of support than the latter. As such, he and his immediate supporters plotted to crush the Turkmen and thus solidify the power of the sultan over his sedentary (and hopefully sole) subjects.

    The crushing of the Turkmen began in 1491, when Ya’qub provoked one of the northern tribes, the Ergani to revolt. The Ergani were liked by many of the other tribes, and so for a time the north-western corner of the Qoyunlu empire was rocked with civil war as tribes either revolted in support of their brethren or held true to their liege. Ya’qub looked on from Tabriz, letting the subject tribes bleed each other for two years before finally stepping in to end the madness. The region, which was the home of the lion’s share of the Turkmen tribes, had been utterly devastated by the years of turmoil, and so Ya’qub and his loyal forces were able to easily sweep the Turkmen out of it. Most of them were either enslaved or fled west into the Karamanid realm. Ya’qub did not pursue them--a decision that would come back to bite him--and instead fortified the border with the Turkish emirate. After this was secured, settlers from Mesopotamia were brought north to populate the region. The remaining Turkmen tribes were sufficiently cowed and could be safely removed from power with only some minor outbreaks of violence. With the ancient tribes subdued or dispersed, Ya’qub Beg was free to crown himself Shahanshah of the (Qutlughid[1]) Persian Empire, taking the regnal name Arslan II[2]. All the while, the alliance with Trapezous remained intact.

    Meanwhile, Skantarios also looked to the west for help. The Venetians and Ottomans had been standoffish at the best of time, but the humiliating defeat of Notaras’ War had sent the Italians into a furious bout of military expansion. The Venetian navy had been massively expanded to more than two hundred galleys, while the number of permanent mercenary contracts had rosen dramatically as the garrisons of their holdings in the eastern Meditwerannean were expanded. It was an open secret that the Venetians were preparing for another war with the Ottomans, which they hoped would return control of the Northern Aegean to them. Alexandros had no intention of actually joining this conflict, but he still hoped than an agreement with the Venetians, as distasteful as it would be to the Ponts, would deter Ottoman aggression. The Venetians initially rebuffed him, but they were brought around to an alliance with the trading empire after their defeat at the hands of the Savonese at Ustica in 1492. Their negligence in not immediately crushing Coromba’s upstart republic had cost them their network on the western side of the Straits of Messina, and they now would do everything in their power to hold on to their empire on the eastern side of it.

    They conducted an official defensive alliance as part of a trade deal in 1495, with both states promising to come to the other’s aid if they were attacked by the Ottomans. However, the main goal of the treaty was a trade deal, which would allow Venetian merchants to trade at lower tariffs than the other Latin merchants. Comparatively lower, that is, the Komnenoi had given the Venetians too much on far too many occasions for Alexandros to give more than what he considered the bare minimum to the perfidious Italians. The hope on the part of the Venetians was that they would be able to trade directly with the Trapezuntines then return through the straits without having to dock in Constantinople (and thus pay their tariffs there). At best, the Ottomans would be completely confounded and forced to give up some of their gains, and at worst they would find themselves engaged in a war on two fronts. However, this plan was spoiled in 1496, when Mehmed III closed the straits to the Venetians. The merchants of Venice were forced to fall back on a far less efficient trading strategy, splitting their monies between a Mediterranean fleet and a river fleet for trading on the Danube and Sava, from whence goods would be portaged overland to Dalmatia. The whole affair caused profits to plummet, and the Venetians were soon struggling to maintain their fleet and army at their standing size. However, Alexandros still kept up the alliance as they armed forces shrank in both size and quality, hoping that they would be a sufficient deterrent to further Ottoman aggression.

    He turned his attention to the Mamluk Sultanate. The Mamluks had long loomed over the affairs of Anatolia, waiting to descend upon any who threatened their power like a bolt from on high. They jealously guarded their northern border, as the nature of the region meant that the Mamluks were essentially insulated from attacks from any other (landward) direction, and so they were able to focus the vast resources of their great realm on their northern border. Any warlord who seemed to pose a threat would be unseated either by a direct assault or by more subtle means, be it the assassin’s dagger or funds given to a local rival. The Mamluks had been suspiciously eying the expansion of the Ottomans for some time, giving a great deal of money and weapons to the Karamids, whom they hoped would act as a buffer. The shock collapse of Ottoman Anatolia in the face of the beyliks had upset the situation in the region to such an extent that the Mamluks has turned their attention to the north-east, where the Qutlughids now posed the greatest threat. Skantarios and his agents lobbied heavily in the court of Cairo, trying to persuade Sultan Qaitbay that the Ottomans still posed more of a threat than the Qutlughids did. This had little effect--the garrisons on the far side of the Euphrates had been skirmishing with Qutlughid irregulars for nearly every year since 1480--and this had the sole effect of getting the Trapezuntines and their merchants expelled from Egypt and Syria.

    With any hope of alliance with the Mamluks gone, Alexandros tried for the next best option, an alliance with the Karamanids. The death of Ishak in a skirmish with Qutlughid raiders in 1486 had led the divided Karamanid beyliks to unite once again under the rule of Pir Ahmet. The bey was not ambitious and seemed perfectly content to rest on his laurels, essentially ignoring his neighboring principalities except for the occasional raid against them. However, the merciless destruction of the Second Çandarid Beylik by a large Ottoman army in 1489 had severely spooked Ahmet, and he looked abroad for allies against the great enemy to the west. In 1492 he conducted a defensive alliance with the Trapezuntines in hopes of preventing further expansion into Anatolia, and in 1496 he made a second alliance with Tabriz to do the same as well as securing his eastern border. The alliance between Trapezous and Konya was tenuous at best due to the constant raids by many of the Turkmen tribes, but Alexandros chose to ignore these in favor of bettering his odds in the case of war with the Ottomans.

    Throughout the entirety of this period, Trapezuntine agents were crisscrossing western and central Europe. As previously mentioned, Alexandros was a Latinophile and hoped to raise a crusade that would finally drive the Ottomans out of Europe or at the very least weaken them enough to collapse. In 1488, he himself made a personal visit to the Hungarian court, traveling there along the Danube trading routes. At this time, Ladislaus VI Hunyadi had recently died without an heir, and the kingdom was beset in a civil war between his brother, Matyas Hunyadi[3], and the Archduke of Austria. Alexandros visited Hunyadi’s court in Esztergom and the Austrian court in Vienna, trying to persuade both to put aside their differences and crusade against the Ottomans. Neither of the monarchs were persuaded, although Hunyadi made some vague promises in hopes of getting the insolent Greek to screw off and leave him alone. Unfortunately for him, Alexandros remained in Esztergom for the next sixth months, during which time he participated in several jousts with Hungarian knights, winning all but one. In early 1490, he departed Hungary, unknowingly leaving a scandal in his wake[4].

    He next went to Krakow, the seat of the Kingdom of Poland. The King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania at this time was Kazimierz IV, an ambitious but not especially capable ruler. Alexandros attempted to recruit him for a crusade as well, and Kazimierz was quite receptive to the idea. This was less due to any genuine piety and more due to a desire to upstage Hunyadi, whom he despised with a burning passion. Alexandros found Kazimierz a distasteful man whom he fundamentally disliked, but concealed these feelings for the greater purpose of unity between the two realms. Kazimierz began making plans for a crusade to be launched in 1492, but his death due to disease scuppered these plans. His successor, Jan I, politely told Alexandros to bugger off, but after a great deal of inveighing promised to protect the Trapezuntines from any Ottoman invasion. This was partly due to self-interest, as the Polish march of Moldova had grown immensely wealthy off of the trans-Black Sea trade, and partly out of a desire to prevent the Ottomans from getting any more dangerous than they already were. A small number of Polish and Lithuanians knights who had prematurely taken the cross followed Alexandros back to Trapezous, but there were no more than a few dozen of these.

    Upon his return to Trapezous, Alexandros was greeted by an embassy from Kartvelia. The Samtskheotes, whom had so brazenly betrayed them before the Battle of Saint Eugenios, had gone unpunished for far too long. Alek’sandre asked that his cousin join him in an expedition to reward them for their impunity, and Alexandros agreed….

    [1] Named after the founder of Aq Qoyunlu and Arslan II’s great^5 grandfather
    [2] Ya’qub considered the Seljuks to be a Persian Empire, and under his patronage this would become a common view in Persia and Mesopotamia
    [3] Known OTL as Matthais Corvinus
    [4] Both Matyas and his wife, Katerin, were fair-haired. As such, the birth of the dark-haired Prince Ladislaus in 1490 caused a great deal of scandal in the Hungarian court, with some speculating that the father was Alexandros. He became a convenient scapegoat as A) he was not around to defend himself and B) Trapezous was essentially diplomatically irrelevant. The scandal was never officially addressed, although it would come back to undermine the legitimacy of Ladislaus once he ascended to the throne in the 1520s.
    Part XXV: Gog and Magog (1495-1497)
  • Eparkhos

    Part XXV: Gog and Magog (1495-1497)

    The Golden Horde had for many decades been seen as the old man of the steppes. Generations of misrule had seen the once-mighty khanate splinter into a half-dozen feuding tribes, the government at Sarai barely able to maintain control over her subject tribes. However, the ascension to the throne of the young and energetic Sultan Ahmed[1] to the khaganship in 1479 had halted this decline. Ahmed had moved quickly to consolidate his realm, crushing the breakaway Qasim Khanate and punishing the insolent Russian tributaries in 1480, crushing a Muscovite army at Kremenskoye and then sacking Muscow herself the next spring[2]. He had then turned his attention east and reduced the Crimean Khanate to a tributary in 1485, then annexed it outright in 1488. A series of wars with the Nogai Horde had seen them driven across the Ural River, cementing the Golden Horde’s dominance on the Ponto-Caspian Steppe. The old tributaries in the Caucasus had also been restored, bringing in a steady flow of gold and slaves to Sarai.

    However, these conquests were not sufficient to insulate Ahmed from legitimacy problems. The khagan had been born to the elder Sultan Ahmed and a Russian slave, and behind his back many whispered that he was in fact an apostate, not a true Muslim like the rest of them. This charge was levied against him not only by his domestic enemies but also by the rulers of his rival hordes, with the Khan of Khazan even going so far as to try and declare a jihad against him in 1492. This wound up going nowhere after the Khazanates collapsed into a succession crisis, but the prospect of a religious war against him spooked Ahmed. He decided that the only way for him to legitimize himself as a true Muslim was to wage jihad in turn against the Christ-worshiping infidels who surrounded him.

    His initial target was the Principality of Ryazan, one of the Russian principalities whose ruler had made the foolish mistake of siding with the Crimeans during his invasion of the khanate. However, before he had even begun to muster his horsemen, his attentions were drawn to the far south of his realm. The shamkhale of Tarki, a small Muslim state on the northern side of the Caucasian mountains, had been defeated by their former vassals, the recently Orthodox Avars under Rusalav I. The Avars had the backing of the Kartvelians, who hoped to expand their sphere of influence across the mountains, and Kartlian and Abkhazian soldiers had participated in the ruthless sack of Tarki. Ahmed saw this as a direct affront to his hegemony in the Caucasus, and more over an insult to the House of Islam at large. In 1494, his pet ulema declared jihad against the infidels of Kartvelia, calling all Muslims to arms against them.

    Ahmed rallied all the fighting men of his realm to arms, as well as a sizable number of ghazis from neighboring realms. By the spring of 1495, he had mustered some 70,000 horsemen and 10,000 footmen outside of Sarai, a force more than large enough to overwhelm the kaffirs across the mountains. In April of that year, he lead this great host south, intent on razing Kartvelia to the ground like the great khans of old.

    Word of this approach sent Kartvelia and the Kartvelian court into a panicked frenzy. On paper, Alek’sandre could muster an epic army of nearly 100,000[3], but this was entirely on paper. Alek’sandre’s now decade-long reign has continued Giorgi’s attempt at centralization, in spite of the promises he had made to his supporters during the civil war. Why he thought this was a good idea is unknown--perhaps the allure of absolute[4] power was too sweet to be resisted--but this had ginned up a great deal of opposition, both loud and quiet, amongst the nobility. Several of the eastern dukes were plotting to overthrow him, and he had decidedly alienated most of the mountainous tribes and clans that lived in the high mountains. Practically, he could muster only some 45,000 men from his own holdings and his loyal vassals, not counting mercenaries or auxiliaries hired abroad or from their vassals. In spite of the existential threat to Kartvelia, many of the nobles were unwilling to put aside their petty differences and pull together to save all of them, leaving their fatherland understrength and vulnerable.

    For several days after receiving word of the coming jihad, Alek’sandre was perilyzed by indecision as he struggled to plot a course that would allow him and his nation to survive the invasion. He spent days and nights engrossed in maps and charts, consulting with his generals and advisors in hopes of concocting a victorious stratagem. He slowly became aware that many of his subjects would not be answering the call to arms, and began to despair of defeating the Mongols with the measly forces available to him. The king became melancholic and exhausted, spending his days in planning and his nights in prayer. One night in May, after weeks of barely sleeping and with his knees bloody from incessant worship, Alek’sandre fell asleep in the midst of prayer. In his dreams the angel Gabriel appeared to him, saying “Lo, do not be afraid. God would not put before you a task which you could not complete. You shall throw Gog and Magog out through the fiery gates as Alexander before you.”

    Upon awakening, Alek’sandre rushed to his generals. The meaning behind the angel’s words were as clear to him as they would be to any medieval monarch. The greatest of the many feats which Alexander had performed was the banishing of the wicked nations of Gog and Magog, whom had so long savaged the lands of Kartvelia[5], across the mountains. After routing their kings, he had then built a great fortress across the Caucasian Gates so that they wouldn’t return. Now, Alek’sandre would do as his namesake had and meet the invaders in the pass, where their weight of numbers would be nullified by the difficult terrain. There, God willing, the Kartvelians would defeat the Mahometans and preserve their kingdom for the one true faith.

    However, things weren’t as simple as just marching to the Caucasian Gates and fortifying them. Alek’sandre was no fool, and this idea had occurred to him before. The problem was that moving all his men to guard the Gates would leave the western passes through Circassia completely unguarded, which would let the Mongols waltz in completely unopposed. He couldn’t split his forces, as doing so would leave him without the forces to defend either the Gates or the Circassian passes. He needed more men than were available to him, and he needed them quickly. In late May, he wrote to Alexandros of Trapezous and begged him to return the Kartvelian support which had buoyed him at Saint Eugenios. Alexandros, surprisingly[6], agreed, and marched to join the Kartvelians with some 15,000. The entry of this sizeable Trapezuntine force considerably altered the situation on the ground, as Alek’sandre now had enough men and material to set his trap.

    In mid-June, Alek’sandre raised 10,000 of his best soldiers and marched out from Tbilisi. They made for the passes, which lay nearly due north of the capital, and within a few days they had entered the mountains. They advanced along the narrow pass as far as the small monastery of Semghisa[7], where the pass was less than a hundred feet wide. Here they dug in, hauling stones and mud to create a stone rampart that rose taller than three meters, peppered with holes for spears to be stuck through. The valley before them was scattered with caltrops, while archers were sent up the sides of the mountains to fire down on any attacker. Meanwhile, the joint Kartvelian-Trapezuntine army, joined by several thousand Circassians who were no friends of the Mongols, was camped at Layslo[8], where any army approaching from the north or west into Abkhazia would be forced to pass. The general feeling was apocalyptic, soldiers knowing that they would either do or die and that their families would suffer egregiously for their failure. Bishops and priests passed throughout the camps at all hours of the day. Alexandros went so far as to declare that the coming struggle would be a holy war, as God had sanctioned them with the appearance of Gabriel to Alek’sandre and Satan was surely behind this Muslim horde. This caused a stir back in Trapezous and Tbilisi, but its long-term impacts would not be felt until much later.

    Finally, in mid-June, Ahmet arrived. The khan had been forced to tarry in Old Alania to deal with an uprising amongst the slaves there, and he was eager to make up for lost time. He sent scouts ahead to probe the two crossing points[9], keeping his main force in reserve on the steppe. After a few days the scouts returned to him. They reported that the western passes were heavily defended and that many of the Circassian tribesmen had forsaken their pledges as vassals and would fight with their coreligionists instead. The Caucasian Gates, however, were seemingly unguarded, and could be quickly stormed through. In truth, the scouts had been driven off by Avar raiders before they had even made it ten miles into the pass, and so the scouts were fabricating their reports out of fear. Ahmet took this second report at face value, and so marched due south towards Kartvelian. The Mongol army entered the pass on 26 June, quickly bunching up as the pass narrowed to a few hundred feet wide. The army (not to mention the van) stretched out for miles along the narrow road as they advanced into the spine of the Caucasus mountains. Ahmet was having enough trouble sorting out his supply situation and was thus inattentive to probing ahead, a fatal mistake.

    Several days into the mountains, the Mongols were taken by surprise as the rocky faces above them erupted with arrow fire. Caught completely unawares and packed together like sardines, the Mongols could do little but wait for the attack to abate. Once it did, Ahmed ordered his men forward again, suspecting that there was a Kartvelian force nearby. He had no idea how right he was. At the next bend of the river, the Mongols were greeted with roaring cannons and a hail of arrows as Alek’sandre’s men opened fire, cutting down dozens of the tightly packed horsemen before they pulled back back around a bend in the river. The Kartvelian cannons were of the Trapezuntine make, and so several of them were quickly hauled up a nearby cliff-side to continue firing down on the Mongols as they made an awkward retreat. Hoping that this had brought the Kartvelians out of position, Ahmed ordered his men to charge forward and try to storm the barricade. They were cut down en masse, as without room to maneuver the lightly armed and armored mounted archers were easy prey for the cannonade and arrows of the defenders. A few reached the barricade, only to be greeted by ranks of unsmiling pikemen and cut down once they summited it. After nearly two hours of this, Ahmed sounded a withdrawal.

    In his makeshift camp that night, Ahmed was faced with a difficult decision. The narrow confines of the pass made it impossible for his horsemen to act to their full potential, and he could see little other result except waves of Mongols dying on the barricade. Eventually, they would break through, but they would be shot to hell and quite possibly be too tired to continue their advance. However, their narrow ranks and the general uselessness of the horse archers meant that any withdrawal would essentially turn their rear into a turkey shoot for the Kartvelians. He couldn’t advance and he couldn’t retreat, so for now he was stuck in position. All the time, Kartvelian cannonballs were falling into the ranks of horsemen, carving bloody trails through their dense formation.

    The Great Stand at Aleks’andretsikhe[10], as it would become known as, would last for the next two weeks. The Mongols’ supplies and morale gradually wound down, while the Kartvelians remained fresh and vigorous. The Mongols lost a steady number of men each day as Kartvelian shells kept falling. After several days of deliberation, Ahmed decided to bite the bullet and pull back. Literally, pull back. The Mongol army retreated from the pass, moving backwards one step at a time so the Kartvelians couldn’t rush in and attack their flank. Over the following two weeks, the Mongols completely withdrew back onto the steppe.

    This humiliating defeat caused Ahmed’s cause to shatter. Most of the ghazis quit the army out of disgust, and several bands from the recently-conquered parts of the steppe broke off and returned to their homelands, intent on sparking revolt. The khan and the remainder of his army, seeking to salvage something from the fiasco, went eastward into Circassia, where they spent several months pillaging the disloyal tributaries. However, he did not attempt to conquer these regions, fearing that he was already over-extended. He wintered on the Pontic steppe before returning to his heartland territories the next spring, in response to a Qasimite incursion. Kartvelia had survived.

    After the Mongol withdrawal, Alexandros and the Trapezuntines withdrew back to Pontos. The ongoing thunderdome on the steppe would keep their surrounding regions quiet, and the Trapezuntines would spend the next half-decade in a quiet period. This silence would be broken, however, when the Lithuanian Civil War spilled out onto Trapezuntine holdings….

    [1] This is OTL’s Sheikh Ahmed, the son of the Sultan Ahmed who participated in the Great Stand on the Ugra River
    [2] TTL, the Russians blinked first at the Great Stand, and the Mongols won the resulting battle. Moscow was sacked and then burned to the ground, the Grand Duchy shattering into its constituent parts. The largest of these successors is Nizhny Novgorod, ruled by the capable general Vasily Vasilivech Bledny
    [3] Giorgi VIII claimed that he could raise this many men for a crusade, but as you see this number is highly suspect.
    [4] ‘Absolute’ in quotations, as no medieval monarch was truly absolute.
    [5] This story has existed since at least the 7th Century and is well-attested to as a folktale across Europe and the Near East.
    [6] The bandons had recently suffered a blow in the form of a nastly plague
    [7] OTL Tsdo, Georgia
    [8] OTL Adler
    [9] There were actually three passes: Ciracsssia, the Caucasian Gates, and the Derbent Gates, but the latter lay in the territory of the Qutlughids, who Ahmed feared angering.
    [10] This name is slightly anachronistic. Aleks’andretsikhe was a large fortress created by Alek’sandre in the years after the Great Stand to secure the pass from any further invasions. Aleks’andretsikhe was one of seven fortresses that straddled the pass, making invasion from the north nearly impossible. Its name means ‘Alexander’s Castle’, after both Alexander the Great and Alek’sandre the II.
    Part XXVI: Oak and Ash and Thorn (1481-1500)
  • Eparkhos

    Part XXVII: Oak and Ash and Thorn (1481-1500)

    The discovery of Brasil and, more importantly, the commercial popularity of jachaing[1], set off a settlement boom across the closing decades of the 15th century. Merchants from across England would clamor to back expeditions to the new world as the returns of even a marginally successful colony would make its backers very rich men indeed. Amongst these private expeditions, there were also several government-backed expeditions sent to maintain order in the colonies and to ensure that the Royal Exchequer got its cut of the bonanza. These first decades would be a period of English hegemony, and both Edward and private investors were eager to make the most of it before continental competitors intervened.

    In the spring of 1481, three expeditions put out for Brasil. The largest was that of Edward Weston, which sported a pair of cogs, Adam and Enoch and a hulk, Steady. The Weston expedition was commanded by Edward’s son, William, who had accompanied Jay on his first voyage and managed to survive the wreck of Trinity, being swept onto the deck of George alive but soaked. The Weston expedition departed Bristol on 21 April, carrying one-hundred and thirty-four men. Weston hoped to establish a jachaing plantation, and he outfitted his expedition with farmers, butchers[2], tanners, carpenters, wheel-wrights and mercenaries, everything that was needed to establish and maintain a plantation and its outlying farms. Hell, he even threw in the materials to make wine, just in case the new land had the climate for it[3]. The Weston expedition was the larger of the private expeditions that sailed that year and the best-prepared out of any of them. Many of the crew members aboard these ships were survivors from the first expedition, and so they also had the advantage of technical know-how.

    The other private expedition was that of Robert Strumy, who was especially eager to make for Brasil. Had Trinity--his ship--returned with only a third of the jachaing that George had, he would have been the richest man in Bristol, and he was determined to not late fate prevent him from reaching this goal. He commissioned two ships, George and a second anglic caravel[4], Fortune, under George’s navigator from the previous voyage, Walter Fish. There were some hundred and seven men aboard the ships, most of them farmers with a handful of other tradesmen and, of course, mercenaries. Most importantly, however, they carried a great number of cheap goods that could be used as trading chits, which Fish hoped to use to ingratiate himself with the Lenylenapy.

    Finally, there was the Royal Colonial Fleet, which was being assembled in London under the supervision of John Jay himself. Jay’s stories of the strange land over the sea had fascinated Edward IV, and the king was willing to support Jay’s proposition to Parliament for funding. Enough MPs were swayed by Jay’s increasingly elaborate tales of Brasil, and an expedition was put together to return to this strange country. Four ships--the cogs Bounty and Rapid, the hulk Graveline and the rush-built anglic caravel Rose of Raby--were given over to Jay, with the total number of crew and colonizers numbering two-hundred and eighty-three. Many of these men were soldiers, sent to secure Fort Saint George and the other cessations, but there were also a great number of landless farmers whom had been recruited for settlement, herdsmen, butchers, carpenters and other craftsmen. Edward tasked Jay with three tasks; One, build a castle at Fort Saint George to defend English territory from hostile natives and/or the French; Two, secure territory for the farming and production (i.e. curing[5] and preparation for the voyage back to England) of jachaing, as well as the production of a sufficient amount of food to supply the forces there; Three, ascertain the source of the gold which Jay had been given by the Lenylenapy so it could be secured for the English crown[6]. He was also instructed by the Bishop of Canterbury, Reginald Peacock, to convert as many of the Lenylenapy to the true faith as possible, and to this end the priest Lewis Johnson was sent to accompany him. Before departing in early May, Jay was invested as “Governour of Colony of New England” and given the authority to collect pledges of fealty to the king from any of the natives of Brasil, as well as permission to knight any of the natives to further their loyalty. Finally, on 6 May 1481, to the cheers of all London, Jay set out on his second voyage.

    It was a surprisingly quiet voyage. There were some slight navigation difficulties caused by unexpectedly strong winds blowing the ships towards the south-west, but after Jay ordered a course correction based on sextant coordinates every hour, this problem sorted itself out. After thirty-one days at sea, considerably faster than his previous voyage, Jay and the English fleet sailed into the bay below Fort Saint George, which Jay christened House-of-York Bay, to be later shortened to ‘York Bay’, on 6 June. He would be pleasantly surprised to see Weston’s ships riding at anchor in Upper York Bay. After a slightly longer voyage, William Weston had arrived at Fort Saint George on 28 May, and quickly gone to work on creating a slice of England in the New World. Half of Saint George Island, as it had been known, was being cleared of trees. Weston hoped to create two great jachaing farms surrounded by a number of yeomen farms, which was exactly what Jay had also hoped to do. However, there were too many would-be settlers for the land to be divided along those lines. Neither really cared about the small freeholders, but there just wasn’t enough space for four jachaing farms. Jay claimed that his royal monopoly gave him the right to establish the plantations, while Weston believed that it was his because he had gotten their first. The two quickly had a falling out, and while Jay was able to force Weston to give up the lands, their relationship never recovered. The first crop of jachaing was harvested the next spring, and a few months later Rapid departed back to England with her hold full with that and cured hides from the strange-looking animals of Brasil.

    However, there was one thing that Jay and Weston agreed upon, that being their concern over the disappearance of the Fish expedition. It had departed in late April[7], but was nowhere to be found and never arrived at Fort Saint George. Many speculated that they had gone down in the Atlantic, but this was only partly true.

    Only a few weeks out from Bristol, Fortune had been destroyed one night by a massive freak wave[8] that had effectively just swallowed the ship. George, however, managed to survive with only minor damage, and Fish was able to steer onwards towards Brasil. However, severe storms would badly damage George, with another freak wave on 16 May causing the mast to snap off and taking the ship’s only two sextans with it. George then drifted for the next week and a half, with their water supplies quickly becoming exhausted. Only by drinking their own piss were Fish and his crew able to survive long enough to drift ashore. On 27 May, the ship made landfall on the Strumy Islands. Things were still desperate, but at least they would die on land. A sailor then spotted a piece of glinting metal in the sand, which was quickly retrieved and identified as a broken sextant that had been left there the previous year. Fish quickly realized they were only a few miles from the well which he had visited on the previous voyage, and the surviving crew from George quickly scrambled over the sound to the mainland. After quenching his thirst, Fish concluded that they were too far from Fort Saint George to walk there, and decided to make the best of the situation. A gap in the barrier islands was found and George was rowed/pulled through to the sound. A small fort was then erected, called Fort Saint Noah after the patron saint of sailors, on a peninsula jutting out into the sound. Contact was made with the locals, a tribe of Lenylenapy called the Navasing[9], who were very hostile. Fish quickly cordoned off the passage to the mainland and limited his men to the small peninsula. They grew or fished just enough food to survive while George’s mast was rebuilt, and in the spring of 1482 the ship limped into York Bay. Fort Saint Noah would be retaken by a small English force a few weeks later, as Jay didn’t want to show weakness to the natives.

    Speaking of conflicts with the natives, early 1485 saw England’s first colonial war. After returning in 1482, Jay had knighted the old chief Thomagwa and his son, Pasaquon, after they had agreed to be baptized. They took this as a sign of friendship, while Jay believed it constituted the formal admission of the ‘Earldom of Sanheecan’ to the Kingdom of England. As such, when members of a neighboring tribe burned several Sanheecan villages on the mainland, Jay was infuriated and offered to help the Sanheecan get revenge on their attackers. Thomagwa told Jay that the attackers had been from the Canarsee and Rowatan[10] tribes; this was false, but the Canarsee and Rowatan were long-time rivals of the Sanheecan, and the old chief was hardly going to give up a chance to crush his rivals. The two rulers then conspired to undo these tribes. Thomagwa sent a message to the Rowatan and challenged them to an honor battle, as was common at the time, on the mainland just north of Saint George Island. The Rowatan chief agreed, and a few days later a number of Sanheecan warriors rowed up the Jay River[11]. As they approached, the Rowatan warriors came out onto the beach to greet them. They were then turned into a fine paste as the waiting Rose of Raby opened fire with grapeshot from a few hundred yards. Then, with their best warriors dead, the Sanheecans and their English allies defeated the rest of the tribe. The Canarsee, upon hearing of this massacre, fled in terror from their settlements on Jay Island. The Sanheecans returned to their homes satisfied, but Jay saw an opportunity to expand English territory in Brasil. He annexed half of the former Rowatan territory and the entirety of Canarsee territory on Jay Island as part of New England. This angered Teedyooscung, who was still the nominal overlord of both the Sanheecan and the vanquished tribes, but after a delegation was sent to Aquancoc by both the Sanheecan and the English, he reluctantly recognized the annexation of the new territories.

    This annexation vastly expanded the size of New England, with the English now ruling over the western third of Jay Island. The other two thirds were ruled by the Shynecocks[12] tribe, who were diplomatically isolated but, more importantly, had converted to Catholicism in 1484. Distant cousins of Sanheecans, the Shynecocks had become taken with the faith of these strange new arrivals, and swiftly adopted it in both name and practice. The leader of the Shynecocks, known by his Christian name of Eleazar, was a young and clever ruler, and he saw the opportunities presented by the arrival of the English to advance his people’s position. In 1491, he sent a set of ‘priests’ to their rival tribes and former overlords of the Pequot and the Narragansett, who were then killed as spies. Eleazar appealed to Jay, speaking of how the infidels had slaughtered these pious converts, and when the governor was as fired up as he hoped he would be, the English and Shynecocks struck. The Pequot and Narragansett were defeated in a bloody battle at the village of Weekapaug. The Shynecocks then annexed several islands between Jay Island and the mainland, while the English sent a message that the killing of missionaries would not be tolerated. Eleazar then set about trying to advance his people as the foremost ally of the English. He took the unprecedented step of learning how to write and speak English, and was knighted by Jay in 1492. Two years later, he sailed to London, where he became an object of great spectacle, with curious crowds of Londoners following him wherever he went throughout the town. Eleazar gave homage directly to Edward IV. He was invested as Earl Eleazar I of Shynecocks, founder of the House of Shynecocks[13]. Earl Eleazar would return to Brasil the next year, and would reign until his death in 1506.

    However, the greatest impact of the conquest or vassalization of Jay Island would not be the creation of the first Brasilian Earldom. Rather, it would be the resultant flood of settlers into New England. There was now more than enough space for farming, and in 1486 Weston moved across to Jay Island and established his own plantation. Over the next fifteen years, seven other plantations[14] were established on Jay Island, as well as several dozen smaller farms settled by yeomen. The promise of land and good wages caused many of the more fortunate farmers to pick up sticks and move across the Atlantic. They came in increasing numbers as the number of voyages to the New World increased with the number of plantations, and by the year 1500 there were nearly 2,000 settlers living in New England. Of course, these weren’t enough to grow all the jachaing that the markets in Europe desired, and so the wicked practice of slavery first spread into the (European) New World. Jay, having briefly been a slave himself in the Barbary Coast, adamantly refused to support the practice, but after he and his wife[15] retired to a small farm near Fort Saint George in 1496, the new governor, a bastard son of Edward IV named Arthur of Lisle, wholeheartedly embraced it. The English launched several slave raids against the tribes who lived on the mainland across from Jay Island, with Eleazar frequently leading them out of a desire for revenge against his rivals in the region, as well as the Navasing, who had migrated northwards to the shores of York Bay. The latter raided the Sanheecan on several occasions in hopes of forcing the English to halt, but this only served to drive them closer to their European patrons. In 1497, the Sanheecan were baptized en masse and Pasaquon voyaged back to England, where he became the second of the Brasilian Earls[16].

    These vassalizations and raids brought the English and the natives into close proximity, and in 1498 the first bout of plague began. Entire villages surrounding Fort Saint George were stricken by an apocalyptic combination of smallpox, tuberculosis and dozens of other diseases. Entire tribes collapsed in the space of months, with often only a handful of survivors escaping to spread the disease further into the interior. Secondary outbreaks occurred far up the York River[17], which Jay’s half-brother, Robert Hammond, had been sent to explore the previous year. Once-prosperous villages were left shells of their former selves, and the great tribal confederations that had once dominated the region collapsed in a matter of weeks. The horrors of this period are too great to describe, but can be summed as following; It is estimated that within a hundred-mile range of Fort Saint George, three out of every four of the native Brasilians died.

    The plagues that struck Brasil would be one of the greatest mass deaths in human history. These, combined with the enslavement which occurred after his retirement--which, to be fair, he did little to oppose after abdicating the governorship--have led many to accuse Jay of being a genocidal maniac. There is little truth to this, as he does seem to have done his best to treat the natives well. Most notably, he effectively ignored his mission to search for gold, although why he did this is unknown. It is entirely possible that this appears like a humanitarian decision to us due to the sheer bloodiness of Lisle’s gold hunt and the ensuing wars…

    [1] Lenape word of tobacco
    [2] At this time, butchers smoked a good deal of meat, and so it was logically concluded that they were the best-suited to smoke-dry tobacco like the Brasilians did.
    [3] At this time, a good bit of wine was still produced in the south of England, as the Little Ice Age had not yet begun.
    [4] An Anglic or English caravel was a knock-off of the Portuguese caravel which was produced in England.
    [5] The English produced jachaing in the following manner; The leaves would be gathered up and spread in the sun to dry. Then, they would be placed on racks in a smoky room, where they would be kept to prepare them for their voyage. They would then be bundled up, stuffed into containers, and then shipped back to England. From there, they would be sold domestically or abroad, raking in a good deal of money for their producers and distributors.
    [6] Recall that Jay had been given a small amount of gold by the natives; this would later be the cause of much bloodshed during Lisle’s tenure as governor.
    [7] Weston had rushed his putting out in hopes of beating Strumy to Fort Saint George.
    [8] These are disturbingly frequent in the present day, and I see no reason why they wouldn’t be back then.
    [9] The Navasing are the OTL Navasing. Fort Saint Noah is located at OTL Toms River, New Jersey
    [10] Those are the OTL Carnasey and Raritan tribes
    [11] TTL name for the East River; The battle was fought somewhere in the Bronx
    [12] TTL’s Shinnecock people
    [13] Motto: Primus est in fide et fidelis (First in faith and loyalty), Arms: Or a stag passant argent in full, per fess sable.
    [14] ‘Plantations’ here means a farm dedicated to growing jachaing and only jachaing, not the massive sprawling farms of the OTL South.
    [15] In 1484, he married a Saheecan woman who is known by her baptismal name, Anne of Saint George.
    [16] The Earldom of Saheecan; Motto: Forti fidelique (Strong and loyal), Arms:Azure a castle sable in full, per fess vert
    [17] TTL name for the Hudson. In 1497, Hammond had sailed up the York as far north as OTL Fort Edward

    I should also note that I wasn’t very clear about how the jachaing trade worked; Companies and individuals could run their own plantations, but they were required to give a percentage of it to the crown as tax, as well as pay for their rights to grow and process the crop.

    Please comment, I spent a long time on writing all of this.
    A Global Overview, 1500
  • Eparkhos

    Fair warning, this is kind of experimental, and I can always do a rewrite.

    Report on Timeline L-843

    Dear Doctor Rosewell,

    I hope this finds you well. Firstly, I must extend my deepest condolences to you over Doctor Patel’s unfortunate demise. He was far too kind a person to wind up spit-roasted by Papua New Guineans.

    My own work on Timeline L-843 is going quite well. It has now been nearly a century since the point of divergence (seventy-three years, to be exact) and I am eager to construct my first first world report. Do you have any suggestions on how to compose these? I know you have a great deal of experience in matters such as these. Anyway, I hope to have the report completed shortly and will present it to you by the end of the quarter. I can’t promise that, though. My team is rather small, and while the developmental stage that L-843 is in is conducive the collection of information we are still overstretched.

    Doctor William Sarkozy

    File One: A Global Overview: 1500

    Before I begin, I’d like to note that I’ve never done this before and I humbly ask that any readers have patience with me as I find my feet.

    Events in the New World are mostly unchanged from our timeline. Mesoamerica and Andeoamerica are both puttering along nicely. The Aztec Triple Alliance has risen to prominence in TL-1’s Mexico, and they are currently in the closing years of the great conqueror Ahuitzotl. Interestingly, there appears to be an ongoing revival in the fortunes of the Maya people, and several new city-states have been founded in the mountainous interior of the region. Meanwhile, to the south, the Muisca appear to be on the verge of developing currency, an interesting development which may radically alter the fate of the pre-Columbian societies. Further south, the Incan Empire is larger than in TL-1. Ali, I mean Mr. Mohammed, believes that this may be due to the introduction of chickens from Polynesian contact. It appears that the two civilizations made contact on TL-1’s Easter Island in 1480, an event which is speculated to have occurred in our timeline. I should also note that there is a small band of Amerindians who have begun planting mesquite pods along the Red River of the South in TL-1’s Texas. If they are left alone long enough they have a good shot at civilization, but alas colonization has already begun.

    The Americas were opened in 1480 by an English sailor named John Jay the Younger. Jay the Younger was able to secure enough tobacco, or as it is known in this timeline, ‘jachaing’, for tobacco farming and trading to become lucrative trades. The English have conquered Manhattan and the western half of Long Island and begun their settlement, with an estimated population of 1,500 Englishmen in the western hemisphere two decades after first contact. The capital of the colony is the small port of Fort Saint George, located on the southern tip of Manhattan Island. The tribes of the Sanhican and Shinnecox, known in this timeline as the Sanheecans and the Shynecocks, have been incorporated into the English crown, their chiefs being invested as earls and their peoples converted. Unfortunately, the usual bout of Columbian plagues began in 1497, and I expect that their ravages will be as devastating as they were in our timeline.

    The English are not the only Europeans to have reached the New World. The Portuguese also made landfall in our timeline’s Brazil in 1486, although knowledge of this was not made public until 1491. This is a good place to note some developments in etymology. The English have named North America ‘Brasil’ after the legendary Isles of Hy-Brasil, while the Portuguese have names South America ‘Virginia’ after the Virgin Mary. Any agents sent to observe this timeline will need to be briefed on this, and I imagine it will be the cause of a great amount of confusion. The Portuguese have established a number of forts in Virginia, all intended to provide resupply ports for their voyages to India. The largest of these is Rio de Agosto, which is located at our timeline’s Natal. The first plantations are being formed in Virginia, as cacao becomes a valuable good in Europe.

    In Europe, things look quite different. In Iberia, a different end to the War of the Castilian Succession has seen Portugal and Castile enter personal union under Afonso V & XII of the House of Avís. The civil war was significantly longer than in TL-1, lasting from 1475 to 1482, but Afonso and Joanna were able to win a decisive victory with the aid of the French. Afonso then helped soothe the hurt feelings between his two realms by finishing the Reconquista in 1485, carrying the fight over into Morocco and capturing Tangier, Larache and Tetouan before his death in 1491. Portugal is now ruled by Duarte II (b.1477), who is expected to inherit Castile upon his mother’s death. Aragon, meanwhile, has been exhausted by the long succession war and repeated conflicts with France. The once-proud Aragonese Crown is a shadow of its former self, having lost its eastern territories to the Turks and its Italian ones to the French and barely clinging on in Sardinia. Fernando II was overthrown in 1494 after the loss of Naples and was succeeded by his minor son, Juan I, who is essentially a puppet of the nobility.

    Further north, the British Isles are remarkably calm. The strength of their French allies has given the English pause in attacking the Scots, who are busily expanding their control into Ireland. The War of the Roses ended much earlier in this timeline, with the Yorkists retaining the throne under Edward IV. The succession is secure, with three male heirs waiting in the wings, and Edward IV is a strong and capable monarch. The Lancastrian claim to throne has been extinguished, with the Tudor brothers assassinated in 1489. The Scottish, meanwhile, are enjoying a period of peace and prosperity under James IV, whose frequent communications with the French have made him appear as more trouble than he is worth to hawks in London. Across the Irish Sea, the House of FitzGerald has been steadily gathering influence as the Scottish attempt to win them over to their cause for a war against the English. The Irish lords are even more powerful than in our timeline, as Gerald FitzGerald had foolishly been invested as governor of the Pale, making him King of Ireland in all but name. He may soon become the legal King of Ireland as well, as he is in the process of attempting to win an alliance with the French, which would completely secure his independence.

    Across the English Channel lies the hegemon of Europe, France. An earlier victory in the Hundred Years’ War saw the English exiled from the continent bar only Calais, and Brittany and Burgundy proper brought into their sphere of influence. A succession of capable monarchs allowed France to rise to great heights, becoming the de facto hegemon of central and western Europe with no Austria to counter-balance them. Charles VIII still sits upon his throne, as the fluke door incident that killed him in TL-1 never occurred. With a steady hand on the tiller throughout the 1490s and with no unified Spain to oppose them, the French solidified themselves as hegemons of Italy, with Savoy, the northern Italian city-states, Florence and the Papal States themselves being effective vassals of the French crown. Naples and Milan are in personal union with France, whose tendrils now extend as far as Epirus. However, not everything is well for this great hegemon, and France’s many enemies have begun to conspire against her, with her great size even forcing many of her former allies to reconsider their relations with the great power. Many of the dukes were also going tired of Charles’ centralizing reforms.

    Italy in L-834 is radically different from our own. Genoa and Venice, who dominate the peninsula in most timelines, have been significantly reduced in power. Genoa was burned to the ground in 1480 by the Milanese, the survivors fleeing to Corsica, where they established the Calvian Republic under Paolo di Campofregoso. However, they were unable to recover their former colonial empire, which was divided between many different states and powers. However, the Genoese shadow would be filled in at least one area, Liguria, with the rise of Savona. Many former Genoese traders and captains defected to the Savonese after the republic was proclaimed by Cristoffa Corombo, a former Genoese merchant. Savona was able to fill the void in the eastern Mediterranean left by Genoa’s downfall, and was able to beat back Venetian efforts to extend their control west of Sicily. Venice, meanwhile, has been dealt one bad hand after the other. They had lost a good portion of their navy in a struggle with the Ottomans over the eastern territories of Genoa in the 1480s, and as a result had lost much of their eastern trade network. Then, they had come down against Charles VIII in his invasion of Italy in the 1490s, which had resulted in them losing all of their mainland territories west of Padua. However, they have managed to cling to their Egyptian trade network, which is just barely keeping their head above water, and the doge, Agostino Barbarigo, is a capable and skilled ruler.

    Things are even more chaotic in central Italy. Charles was able to claim the throne of Milan, which he quickly expanded to include much of the Po Valley, seized from the Venetians. The many counties and cities of the plain were vassalized to Milan (and thus, indirectly, France), which has angered many. However, there is little any of them can do, and for now they are limited to angrily stewing. The Florentines were also reduced by the French, with the Medicis being forced into exile in the trans-Appenine cities of Urbino and Ancona. However, they have not been fully defeated, and from exile Lorenzo de’ Medici plots his revenge. In the place of the Medicis, the reformist priest Girolamo Savonarola and his followers have taken over Florence, preparing their state for what they believe will be the final battle with the forces of the devil. Needless to say, Savonarola is unhinged. In Rome, meanwhile, Pope Alexander VI threads a narrow line between advancing his own interests and that of King Charles. He was initially a supporter of French intervention in Italy, but has come to resent Paris’ constant meddling. Charles has won in Italy, but he has not won Italy.

    Across the Alps, Germany is in a state of flux. The Habsburgs had formerly been the chief hegemons of the Holy Roman Empire, but their sudden and unexpected destruction by Matthais the Raven in the 1490s had left the Empire adrift. Into this void stepped Bogislaw X, the Duke of Pomerania and Margrave of Brandenburg, jure uxoris. In a long and surprise-filled reign, he restored the unity of the Duchy of Pomerania, then turned the tide against his former overlord in Berlin, invading in a long and bloody multi-year struggle that culminated in the installation of his wife, Margaret, as Electress of Brandenburg. His meteoric rise had made his name in the Holy Roman Empire, but also the animosity of many, several of whom believe him to be a warmonger. One of these men is Fredrick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. Bogislaw and Fredrick are the chief candidates for the vacant office of emperor, and the two are attempting to muster the votes needed to secure the office for themselves. This is almost certain to spill over into open conflict.

    Before I cover the events of Eastern Europe, it is important to note unfolding events in the Low Countries. While the Burgundians had been ejected from Burgundy proper during the 1470s and 1480s, they still clung on in their northern possessions. Philip IV attempted to preserve himself via an alliance with Austria, but when this state unceremoniously collapsed under Hungarian assault, he was left without a patron. Reluctantly, he submitted to Paris, managing to secure an arrangement similar to that which the English had before the Hundred Years’ War, where he was recognized as King-in-the-Rhine-Mouths in vassalage to the King of France. Philip’s reign has been spent in a centralization effort that has stitched together the lands around the Mouths of the Rhine--

    (Transmission Ended due to Data Overage)
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    A Global Overview, 1500 (Part II)
  • Eparkhos

    Report on Timeline L-843 (II)

    File One: A Global Overview (ii)

    I must apologize for the abrupt end of yesterday’s transmission. Dr. Rosario had been uploading a scroll of Chinese poetry through the same connection and had neglected to inform me of this. Hence, I did not know to cut down the size of the transmission to prevent a data overflow, which was why the transmission was cut off so abruptly. I’ll try and pick up from where I left off, but some details about the Low Countries may have been cut off.

    Central Europe in Timeline L-843 is dominated by the kingdoms of Hungary and Poland, which as in our timeline have risen to the status of regional hegemons. It appears that John Hunyadi was elected King of Hungary in opposition to Ladislaus the Posthumous, and with the powers of the king he was able to repulse the Ottomans from Hungary, reducing Serbia to a subject in personal union and Wallachia and Bosnia to tributaries, forming a series of buffers with the Ottomans. After John’s death in 1467, he was succeded by his son, Ladislaus VI, who died without an heir in 1488. He, in turn, was succeeded by his brother and premier general, Matthew the Raven. Matthew crushed the Habsburgs following a failed attempt on their part to claim the throne, and reduced Styria and Austria proper to vassals, exiling the former emperors south to Carantia. This, along with his successful effort to claim the throne of Bohemia, left Matthew as the head of a great Central European powerhouse. Across the Carpathians, meanwhile, Poland is far less stable than in our timeline. A series of succession disputes have left Jan Olbracht with a difficult time administering outside of Krakow, while many of the local lords have effectively become sovereign rulers. On the far side of Poland, meanwhile, Lithuania is gripped in a civil war between Aleksander Jagellion and the partisans of Olbracht, the latter wanting a strong king to protect them and their lands from increasing Mongol encroachment. This speaks more to Aleksander’s incompetence than it does Jan Olbracht’s ability.

    Further north, the State of the Teutonic Order has been expelled from their former holdings in Prussia, being exiled into their Livonian territories. Nonetheless, they are still a force to be reckoned with and have fought off several attempts to conquer them by the Danes and the Swedes. There is a growing movement of those who wish for the Order to transition to a more typical government form, as they feel that their current structure leaves them weak in the face of increasingly aggressive neighbors. The Hanseatic League is also still going strong, their merchants traveling as far afield as Bristol and Novogord, and Lübeck remains one of the power-houses of the north. However, they are far from the uncontested lords of the Baltic that they claim to be. John of Oldenburg still presides over a might Kalmar Union, which controls all of its analogous TL-1 territories as well as the Kola Peninsula, several small ports along the coast of Germany, and the Northern Islands, which were never gambled away in this timeline. His reign has seen an increase in the strength of the domestic economy and the expansion of foreign trade. In recent years, John has begun pushing for the re-opening of the old westward sailing routes, in hopes of establishing colonies to rival New England. However, these plans may soon be shelves, as he is growing old, and the succession of the three thrones is disputed between his sons Ernst, Christian and Jacob.

    Further east, on the far shore of the Baltic, Russia is a madhouse. The Great Stand at the Ugra River went badly for the Muscovites, to say the least, and the rising duchy had her capital brutally sacked and then burned to the ground. In the ensuing power vacuum, the Russian principalities struggled for dominance, and after nearly two decades of chaos the dust has finally settled with three dominant powers. The first is a revived Novgorod, which has managed to regain control over much of its former territory and now fields one of the more formidable, albeit heavily mercenary, armies. Novgorod has established itself as the predominant power of northern Russia, with access to the all-important Baltic and White seas, which have made it very rich off its back of trade. To the south is Ryazan, one of the few states to have preserved its independence from the Muscovites, and was thus in a good position to profit from their loss. Anna of Ryazan, regentess of the principality, had spent several years campaigning against her neighboring principalities, which has allowed her to more than double the size of her realm. The Ryazantines also have the backing of the Golden Horde, whose khan, Ahmed Sultan, views them as the most pliable of his Russian vassals. Finally, there is Novgorod-Suzdal, the direct heir of Muscovy. After the sack of Moscow, one of the surviving Muscovite lords, Vasily the Pale, had marshalled the survivors and marched to his own personal fief, Nizhny Novgorod. With his capital here, he was able to reconstitute about half of Muscoy, presenting himself as the legitimate successor. Vasily is by far the most capable successor, but is beset by problems, chiefly that his realm is adjacent to the powerful Kazan Khanate, which means he can never turn his full attention to his domestic enemies. For now, the Russian states are in a period of uneasy detente, but this certainly won’t last.

    On the steppe, the Golden Horde is still standing strong, having crushed and reincorporated the Nogai and Crimean Hordes as well as reduced the Russians to their previous thralldom. However, Ahmed Sultan’s prestige was serious damaged in 1495, when his invasion of Georgia ended with the disastrous Great Stand at Aleks’andretsikhe. In spite of this, he has managed to shore up his position, and is now posed to take advantage of the ongoing turmoil in Lithuania. Further north, Kazan is preparing to make inroads into Russia with the ongoing strife, while further to the east the Uzbek Khanate is rushing to fill in the void left by the collapse of the Nogais a few years previous. However, they are troubled by the activities of their breakaway Kazakh Khanate, who threatens their southern border in a way not unlike Novgorod-Suzdal and Kazan. Even further south, the Shaybanid Khanate has formed several years ahead of their TL-1 ethnogenesis, quickly taking control of most of the south-central steppe. They now pose a credible threat to the Timurids, and they may eventually displace them.

    Turning back to Europe, the Balkans are quite interesting. In the 1460s, a successful crusade caused serious damage to the Ottomans, nearly succeeding in driving them out of Europe. However, entropy and a lack of coordination gave the Sublime Porte enough time to recover some of their ground, and they now are once again posed to invade Europe. However, a brewing conflict between the grand vizier, Mahmud Angelović Paşa, who is credited by many for the survival of their European territory, and the young and headstrong sultan, Mehmed III, may derail them into civil war once again. The primary enemy of the Ottomans are the Hungarians, who have absorbed Serbia, (Did I already say that? Eh, better safe than sorry) having defeated the Venetians in the 1480s. However, the Venetians still cling on in the Aegean, holding their Moreote ports, Crete, and many of the islands. Most of the southern mainland, i.e. the Peloponnese and Boeotia, is held by the Empire of the Morea, a Byzantine rump state that is ruled by the descendants of Thomas Palaiologos. I should note that in TL-843, Constantine XI died in the 1440s and instead Demetrios Palaiologos was killed with the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Anyway, there are also a handful of surviving states in the Balkans. The Despotate of Thessaly is ruled by Mikhael Angelos, the half-brother of Angelović Paşa, and so he has been allowed to remain somewhat independent, albeit as a fairly loyal tributary. There are also the unstable and civil-war prone states of Epirus and Albania, which can barely be considered functioning states. Leonardo III Tocco is by now an exhausted and senile old man, but he failed to name a regent, and so the court factions of Arta are left to feud over who aught to rule for him until his death. None of these factions are able to exert control over the highlanders, either. The Albanians, meanwhile, are a schizophrenic mess. Skanderbeg died in 1486 without an heir, and since then there has never been a single, undisputed ruler. These have given the Ottomans the perfect opportunity to make inroads into the region, and neither state is likely to last.

    Across the straits, Anatolia looks radically different. Some bad timing and foolish mistakes during the 1460s caused the collapse of Ottoman territory in Anatolia. The Karamanid Beyliks are now the chief Anatolian powers, dominating the plateau and everything east of the coastal mountains, making the Ottomans and ironic echo of the Komnenian Empire. The Karamanids are fairly powerful states, but remain decentralized and are thus unable to reach their full potential. There was formerly the Chandarid Beylik, but after double-crossing the Ottomans in the 1480s, they were unceremoniously destroyed and fled into exile in Mesopotamia. That leaves the only other state on the peninsula, the Trapezuntine Empire. A series of surprising victories since the 1440s have revitalized the Trapezuntine state, carving out a sizeable niche for themselves along the southern coast of the Black Sea. In the 1480s, a nearly-disastrous war with the Ottomans saw a siege of Trebizond itself and almost caused the destruction of the Empire, but the Trapezuntines were able to rally and managed to secure a white peace. Now, they are a fairly prosperous trading empire with allies in Georgia and Mesopotamia, but the emperor, Alexandros II, has begun to reach middle age, and issues of family and succession are becoming increasingly daunting.

    In the Caucasus, things are almost identical to TL-1. The Georgians dominate the western half of the mountains, forming a strong bulwark of Orthodox Christendom in the region alongside the Trapezuntines, but they have little interest in expanding and are perfectly content sitting tight. This is because the rest of the region is dominated by the Qutlughid Empire, the successors of the Aq Qoyunlu horde. The Qutlughids extend from the Greater Caucasus all the way down to the Persian Gulf, as well as a good chunk of Persia and Mazandaran. They are a force to be reckoned with, the first self-proclaimed Persian Empire since the collapse of the Sassanians. While they are definitely a first-rate power, they are plagued with internal troubles, most notably religious difference between the intensely Sunni rulers and the religious mix that they rule over, as well as disputes between the remaining Turkmen nobles and the sedentary Arabs and Persians who make up the bulk of the population. However, they have strong leadership in the form of Arlsan II and his lieutenants, and the likelihood of these problems boiling over into civil war is unlikely.

    The only independent state in Syria is the Third Chandarid Beylik, which is allowed to exist as a buffer zone between the Egyptian Mamluks and the Qutlughids. The Chandarids form a ruling class above the native Syrians, although the constant threat of being destroyed by their neighbors forces them to remain at least somewhat merciful towards their subjects.

    In Africa, things are more or less as in our timeline. The Mamluks are still a major power, holding control over Libya, Egypt, Lower Syria and the Hejaz. Further west, the Hafsid ‘Caliphate’ rules over Tunisia and western Algeria, forming a regional power that is most notable for its patronage of the barbary corsairs. The Zayyanids are also a goodly-sized state, although they are unable to obtain the success of their eastern neighbors. Finally, there is Morocco, which is currently in the grasp of a civil war between the Wattasids and their various vassals, which does little but help the Iberians make inroads into the region.

    I’m going to cut the transmission here, so I don’t cause another overflow. Hold on, please….
    A Global Overview, 1500, Part III
  • Eparkhos

    Report on Timeline L-843 (III)

    File One: A Global Overview (III)

    It appears that the Incidence of Divergence occurred somewhere around the Mediterranean basin less than a century before 1500, as there do not appear to many secondary effects east of the Qutlughid Empire. There may be slight differences in Arabia, India and other nearby regions that may have escaped my team’s observations, but obviously, I would not be aware of such differences and so would be unable to report them. I may includes sections of texts from this timeline describing this time period as an addendum, but I’m overstretched as is and can’t afford the time to dig them up.

    Arabia, that is, peninsular Arabia, is fairly similar to its state in TL-1. The Rassid imams of Yemen have managed to re-establish control over most of Yemen, but this is the only notable difference in the region. The current imam, al-Mansur I, is beset with internal troubles, as his sudden rise to regional ruler had been built off the backs of impoverished peasants and vanquished rivals, many of whom are now growing in power. If the imam can manage to fend off these numerous opponents, he may be able to extend Yemeni rule across the Bab el-Mandeb into the Horn of Africa, which is currently in a state of effective anarchy. The Adal Sultanate collapsed in 1478 after its sultan and his army were shattered by an Ethiopian army, and the remaining emirates are fighting it out amongst themselves. However, the Ethiopians are prevented from exploiting this by the recent arrival of the Oromo from the Nilotic ethnogenesis region. Through some means, the Oromo appear to have been converted to Christianity very early on in this timeline, or at the very least syncretized Christianity with their native religion. This radically alters the political situation in the region from TL-1, and given the infighting between Warsangali and Ajuraan, the chief Somali state, the struggle for the Horn could be anyone’s game. The best candidates, however, are the Ethiopians, who will soon be coming under the rulership of the skillful Dawit II, and the Ajuraan, who are attempting to establish themselves as a proto-Omani state.

    Further south, the Kilwa Sultanate is in the process of collapsing under its own weight. Generations of harem politics, general instability and a remarkable string of assassinations and child rulers has caused the formerly great state to collapse into anarchy, with most of her subject cities declaring their own independence and ignoring the central government as it plunges further into anarchy. The centuries of prosperity and the flowering of trade that occurred during this period may soon vanish, like sugar into the tossing sea. There are now more than a dozen city-states and jumped-up admirals who claim to be the rightful Sultan, and there is no doubt this conflict shall be ended bloodily. To the south, better climate patterns have left Great Zimbabwe intact, albeit greatly reduced from their heights of power. A number of tribes are coalescing in the surrounding region, and it is entirely possible that Zimbabwe may soon go the way of TL-1’s Zimbabwe. Then again, it’s entirely possible they could stage a recovery.

    Also in Arabia, the Nahbani Dynasty of Oman has begun to push strongly against Hormuz. The Omanis are far more capable in land combat than their maritime neighbors are, and they have begun to push strongly into the Musandam Peninsula. The Hormuzites have begun to struggle in recent years as their profits drop with the rise of new competitors, chiefly the Yemenis of Aden and the Indians of the Gujarat cities. This has put them not only into the crosshairs of the Nahbani, who hate them due a long-running religious dispute between the Sunnis and the Ibadis which in this part of the world is more bitter than it is elsewhere, but also those of the Qutlughids. Arslan II is almost salivating at the thought of complete control of the Gulf, and he is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to secure the keystone of this trade-rich region. The Ma’danis, who make up the majority of the south Mesopotamian swamps, are uncooperative due to their fanatical Shi’ism, and in his desperation to secure the Gulf, Arslan has begun to look to other sources of potential sailors and shipbuilders. In fact, he has spent a dispatch to Trebizond, asking if the aftokrator would allow him to settle Ponts in his own realm to build a navy for him.

    To the east, India is mostly unchanged from our timeline, albeit with the significant asterisk that the Timurids do not appear to be in any position to stage their miraculous comeback as the Mughals as they did in our timeline. As previously mentioned, the afore-time rise of the Bukharan Empire has effectively crippled them, the few surviving dynastic states circling the drain as native Afghans and Khorasanis increase in importance. It is entirely possible that the final Timurid state may collapse less than a century after their founder’s demise. The Lodi Sultanate is still standing strong, with not potential threats from the north or the west, leaving them free to utterly fail to convert the local Hindus to the true faith. The Bengal Sultanate is essentially the same as in our timeline, albeit slightly more less repressive, as the presence of a large, menacing rival of the same faith has caused their sultans to try and balance the interests of their Muslim and Hindu subjects to keep their heads still on the shoulders. On the southern tip of the peninsula, Vijayanagar is at its height, having crushed the Bahmanis in a long and bloody war that concluded with the shattering of the Deccan states. The Hindus are now making a comeback on the plateau, with adventurers and peasant rebels carving their own chunks of the weak rump states of the region. Across Adam’s Bridge, meanwhile, a third Sinhalese kingdom has risen, with its capital at Trincomalee, and is in the process of expelling the Tamils of Jaffna from the island in what is shaping up to be a long and bloody campaign that will likely take several decades to complete.

    Outside of India, not much has changed in the eastern parts of the world. The Siamese are still rising as in our timeline, although they have not yet completely supplanted the Khmer, who still manage to cling on in the ruins of Angkor Wat. Great Viet is also rising, having incorporated most of TL-1’s Vietnam and Laos. It appears as if the two states will eventually become rivals for the control of Indochina, though of course neither of them could even hope to match the raw power of the Ming Dynasty, which is near its height. The Tumu Incident, in which the Yingzong Empire was captured by the Oirats, who then proclaimed a revival of the Yuan Dynasty before collapsing due to infighting, appears to be averted, but just as little came of the crisis in TL-1, even less came of its lack of occurrence in TL-L(843). In Korea, the Joseon Dynasty rules as it did in OTL, and just as in OTL Japan is wracked by internal struggle in the Sengoku Jidai or Warring States Period. The Onin War resulted in disaster for the Ashikaga shoguns as it did in our timeline, and since then the shoguns have had no control outside of Kyoto. The provinces are ruled by individual noble families, who share the common tenet of hating the shogun more than they hate each other.

    The only major anomaly in East Asia, apart from a few date discrepancies in proclamations made in Nusantara, is the establishment of the Ainu Kingdom. It appears the Koshamain’s War did not break out in the 1450s but instead the 1460s, by which point the shogun was distracted with the Onin War and unable to send aid to the northern fortresses. As such, Koshamain and his followers were able to overwhelm the Matsume on Hokkaido and drive the Japanese from the island, creating their own hybrid tribal-mandala modeled off of the similar government system in China and their own traditional forms of government. This state, the Ash Dynasty (literally, ‘The Steadfast Dynasty), has managed to establish control over all of Hokkaido, as well as establish tributaries on Sakhalin and the Kurils. They live scattered across the island, but their chief cities are Hakodate, a Japanese fortress on the southern tip of the island, and Otaru, a pilgrimage center and the capital of the newly-established kingdom. Farmers live across the hills and plains, but many still hunt and many more fish for their living. The emperor--the Ainuaynumosir Emperor (Koshamain) until his death in 1493, then the Ekashiba Emperor since--has near absolute power in all things above the village level, but villages are allowed to self-govern so long as they pay their taxes. The Ash Dynasty is a strange and fascinating country, but I will save the rest for the official report on them, to be submitted at a later date. Notably, however, they are tributaries of the Great Ming, presumably in hopes of staving off Japanese invasion upon their reunification. Presumably, as with most tributaries, Chinese artisans will be imported and doubtless have an impact on Ainu culture, but it’s unlikely that even this can fundamentally alter the nature of these strange people[1].

    Further south, across the great breadth of the Pacific, lies Nusantara. As previously mentioned, there is little that has changed here, other than a few exact dates that were thrown off by a couple of days, or sometimes even weeks. The Sultanate of Malacca continues to rise in prominence as guarantor of passage through the Straits, but their Islamic nature has left them having to deal with an alliance of Hindu-Buddhist states against them, as well as the Acehnese, who consider them to be heretics. Some things never change. Beyond Malacca, Sumatra is essentially identical to what it was in TL-1, with a number of small principalities along both costs vying for control of the pepper-producing regions in the highlands. To the east lies Java, where things are only slightly different from in our timeline. The Demak Sultanate reformed a decade earlier than it normally does and as such was able to keep up the war against the ailing Majapahit, which finally fell in 1498. The great city, which had once been the greatest spice trading port in all the world and the emporium of the seven seas, whose streets had once been whispered of as being paved in golden cobblestones and whose walls had once been cased with copper, was put to the sack. Several decades of decline meant that there wasn’t much to actually be looted, but the symbolic blow was still a great one. The only state to have once unified all of Nusantara had now faded away into history, eclipsed by her younger neighbors. A bitter end for the kingdom of the bitter fruit.

    Yet further beyond lies the Kingdom of Wehali, occupying the OTL island of Timor. The Wehalites are thoroughly unremarkable as Nusantaran states go, with their only major trading products being sandalwood and candleberry, neither of which are in especially great demand. However, in 1497, a Wehaliate vessel drifted out into the Timorean Sea and made landfall on Australia, which was reported as being a strange and exotic island. Several strange beasts were sighted, but this did not prevent the Wehalite court from dispatching a series of expeditions to determine if this new land could be used for growing spices.

    Finally, there are the Polynesians, who are going about as normal, bar only their anomalous contact with the Andean civilizations.

    This concludes the Global Overview of 1500 in Timeline L-843.

    [1] All of this is because of a secondary PoD. I’ll admit I’m not the fondest of secondary PoDs, but the potential to create a vibrant Ainu state was too good to pass up, especially considering how they are neglected in most proper timelines.
    Part XXVIII: The War of the Lithuanian Succession (1498-1501)
  • Eparkhos

    Part XXVIII: The War of the Lithuanian Succession (1498-1501)

    Upon the death of Kazimierz IV, his empire shattered. His eldest son, Vladislaus, had been co-king of Bohemia alongside Matthew the Raven for a decade and a half[1], but he was unwilling to assume complete control over his father’s vast realm, preferring to remain with his subjects in Prague. As such, the many crowns of King Kazimierz were divided between his other sons. His second son, Jan Olbracht, was crowned as King of Poland, while his third son, Aleksandras, became Grand Duke of Lithuania. Finally, the youngest son, Sigismund, became Duke of Pomeralia and Lord of the Prussian Confederation, effectively ruling the lands which his father had seized from the Teutons.

    This sudden division caused a myriad of problems. Vadislaus and Sigismund were alright, but Poland and Lithuania, the former heartlands of the Jagiellon dynasty, were soon facing dozens of brewing conflicts. Kazimierz had kept taxes in Poland almost ridiculously low to mollify the local nobility, drawing most of his funds from his possessions in Lithuania. With no Lithuanian reserves to draw upon, Jan Olbracht was forced to raise taxes, which made the szlachta thoroughly despise him. In fact, even raising the taxes was a hard-fought battle, as the sejm blocked every attempted reform he made for three entire years before finally granting concessions. However, this came with a price; the sejm would have the ability to veto any appointment made by the king. Jan Olbracht chafed at this, but eventually agreed, relieved to be able to finally pay back the Italian money-lenders who were circling him like sharks. He soon realized his error in 1495, when the sejm refused to allow him to appoint a general to lead a relief expedition to Lithuania, and so he was forced to watch impotently as his brother’s kingdom burned.

    The chief problem facing Lithuania was not internal disputes, as was the case in Poland, although this was still a major concern, as many of the Lithuanian nobles despised Aleksandras. Instead, Lithuania was beset on all sides by hostile neighbors. To the east, the Russian states eyed the increasingly weak state as a bank whose stolen wealth could be used to finance their wars, and to the north the Teutons and Livonians were smarting for revenge against the dynasts who had driven them out of Prussia. However, the gravest threat was to the east, where Ahmed Sultan had recovered his control of the Golden Horde and was eying up Lithuania as a route for expansion. In 1498, after recovering from the disaster in Georgia, Ahmed led an army across the Dnieper and ravaged the lands across the river, going as far west as the Tylihul before returning to his pastures, a great train of slaves of other such loot following him home. Aleksandras marshalled an army and marched to meet him, intercepting the Mongol army at Yavkyne. The resulting battle was a massacre, the Lithuanian army being encircled by the mounted archers and ground to a pulp. Aleksandras barely escaped with his life, he and a few other knights managing to escape on a river barge. This was the spark that lit the powder keg, and within a few months all of Lithuania was aflame.

    With the king revealed to be fully incompetent, the nobility of Lithuania rose in revolt. Mykolas Glinskis[2], a magnate whose lands occupied the heavily-raided eastern frontier, was the first to revolt in late 1498, raising the standard of Jan Olbracht, whom he formally invited to take the throne a few weeks later. He was quickly joined by much of the eastern nobility, who hoped for a strong ruler to help defend their lands from Russian and Tartar incursions. The irony of trying to install the weak king of Poland to fulfill this desire was apparently lost upon them. Within a few months, Glinkis’ rebellion had spread across all the east of Lithuania, with most of the nobility either defecting or declaring their neutrality. A handful of nobles stayed loyal, however, led by Konstanty Ostrogiškis[3], who was able to muster some 5,000 men against Glinskis’ 8,000. Lithuania, like Poland was also deeply in debt, and so neither side was able to bolster their strength with mercenary hosts, although Glinskis was able to rally a few Tartar light horsemen to supplement his knights. The winter of 1498-1499 saw negotiations between the two parties fail, and in the spring the two armies began probing each other’s positions.

    Meanwhile, over in Poland, Jan Olbracht was attempting to join his supporters in Lithuania. However, he was being held up by obstructionists in both the sejm and in the eastern duchies. Many of the Polish nobles thought that having a weak king and thus being able to exercise however many ‘rights’ they wished, was more important the geopolitical power that would be brought by the annexation of Lithuania, and so were opposed to Jan Olbracht’s desire to intervene. Chief among these was Konrad the Rudy, the Duke of Mazovia. In the much-reduced Polish kingdom, Konrad had become a king-maker, with his support needed for any faction hoping to enact anything major. However, in a reunified Poland-Lithuania, his power would be significantly reduced, and thus he was vehemently opposed to any plans of reunification. He succeeded in stalling Jan Olbracht for a year and a half until, with the king even going so far as to threaten to assassinate Konrad if he did not give in. During this time, Jan Olbracht could do little but send funds--very limited funds--to his Lithuanian supporters, with which they could hire mercenaries. Finally, in mid-1501, Konrad relented in exchange for the promise of vast tracts of land in Lithuania, and the Polish army was joined by a sizable number of Mazovians.

    It was fortuitous, because Polish force was needed to help the pro-Jan Olbracht faction’s numerous handicaps. Although Glinskis had the initial advantage in terms of numbers and general support, the fractious nature of his cause made it difficult for him to rally these resources, and he spent more time mediating between his subordinates than he did actually campaigning. Ostrogiškis, on the other hand, was more of an autocrat than Aleksandras was, able to order his followers about at will and was thus able to coordinate strategic maneuvers in a way Glinskis could not, which gave him a slight edge against the rebels. He could also completely withdraw from or march into areas without concern for the properties of his subordinates which, once again, was not something Glinski could do. Finally, he had control over the capital, Vilnius, and thus access to the state treasury and tax collection system, which allowed him to keep his army well-supplied, while Glinski had to beg, borrow and steal from the landowners whose regions he controlled.

    The campaign season of 1499 saw fighting primarily around the northern Dnieper. As soon as the roads were navigable once again in late May[4], Ostrogiškis rushed eastward to try and seize the royal armory at Smolensk. However, he was beaten to the city by rebel forces, and the loyalists soon found themselves beating a hasty retreat back along the northern bank of the river. A force of over-eager cossacks rushed ahead of the main force and were shattered at the fords of the Drut north of Drutsk. This left the two armies at a rough status quo, but the strategic position had been changed. Ostrogiškis had planned to seize Smolensk and then use it to pin the rebels on the right bank of the Dnieper, eventually surrounding and crushing them. Now, however, he would be forced onto the defensive. However, the ever-active mind of the great general soon evolved a new plan. With hostile intervention from Poland a possibility at any time, he would use the broad and defensible Neman to anchor his flank, then deploy his forces along the roads eastward. He would draw the rebels in to the gap between the fortress cities of Minsk and Kreva, where they could be cut off and defeated. Glinskis, meanwhile, was hesitant to attack before support from Poland could arrive. As such, he was very cautious, and that year limited his advancement to assaults on the fortresses of Drutsk, in mid-July, then onward to the former royal residence at Barysaw in late August. However, he was mindful enough to send a sizeable force north-east to cut the roads to the fortresses of the northern frontier, where a large potential reserve force was waiting to be marshalled.

    The standoff continued into the winter and spring of 1500. Deciding that he had to do something, Glinskis took the offensive, unknowingly doing so only a few weeks before Ostrogiškis would have yielded more ground. In late June, the rebels marched north-east from Barysaw, reaching the banks of the Nevis River, which flows directly into Vilnius itself, without a fight. With his forces caught out of position, Ostrogiškis rushed north with the left flank of his army to block their advance, while his right swung around to cut off their retreat. The resulting Battle of Smarhon was fought on 12 July, near the small fortress on the river banks. Both forces were tired, but the loyalists were able to form up quickly and were able to batter down the rebel vanguard before their cavalry could be deployed. The lines then joined ranks, fighting for over an hour before the rebels withdrew. Losses were light--less than 3,000, overall--but Glinskis was forced to withdraw by the arrival of the right flank in their rear, which forced a hasty withdrawal back to Barysaw. The two forces would remain in roughly the same position through the rest of the season, the rebel cause gradually shedding men as they failed to make headway.

    Ostrogiškis was preparing for a final offensive to crush the rebels against the Dnieper the following spring. A number of fence-sitters had rallied to him after Smarhon, and he now saw an opportunity to crush the rebels against the banks of the Dnieper, hopefully breaking the back of the insurrection in one blow. However, this plan was scuppered by the arrival of a Polish army in mid-1501. Seeing his final opportunity for survival, Ostrogiškis immediately abandoned his defensive works and force-marched towards the approaching host. On 2 July, the two hosts spotted each other and the Poles rushed into battle formations. However, instead of attacking, the Lithuanian general rode out between the lines. He knelt before the king, explained that he was fighting out of loyalty to the throne not because of loyalty to Aleksandras, and that he now recognized him as Grand Duke. Recognizing it for what it was--an attempt to jump ship, but still an opportunity to pacify the Lithuanians--Jan Olbracht accepted his pledge of loyalty. The combined host then marched on Vilnius, where Jan Olbracht was crowned as Grand Duke of Lithuania, taking the first step to restoring his father’s empire.

    The obvious question in all of this is where was Aleksandras? It was in his name that Ostrogiškis, and one would reason that he would join in to preserve his throne. However, he was nowhere to be found. After the disaster at Tylihul, the Grand Duke had fled to the Black Sea littoral of his realm. He holed up in the small maritime fortress of Ginestra, where he remained for the next few days. Nominally, this was because the continued Mongol raids required his presence to protect the region, but in fact it was cowardice. When word reached him of the surrender of Ostrogiškis, he lost any hope he had left of recovering the grand duchy and turned to flight. He gathered up a host of mercenaries and loyalists and fled from Ginestra, not entirely sure of his plan but confident that he could escape his brother’s coming wrath.

    After a turbulent crossing of the Black Sea, the former Grand Duke made landfall near Sinope. It was an immense relief, as he and his followers had nearly been sunk several times on their crossing, but he did not have long to celebrate it. The sudden appearance of this strange force had caused the local bandons to be mustered out, and within a few hours Aleksandras was surrounded by several hundred militiamen. In probably the only moment of valor in his life, the Lithuanian rallied his men and tried to make a breakout, only to be utterly slaughtered as more and more bandons appeared. Aleksandras himself was clapped in chains and dragged to Trapezous, where he was thrown before the aftokrator. Alexandros had been distracted with an ongoing family dispute (more on that later), but the insolence of this Latin was infuriating to him. Disregarding his status and rank--well, actually, he did pay a great deal of attention to it, as it was the only thing keeping Aleksandras’ head on his shoulders--he had the noblemen stripped naked and beaten, then tied up outside the palace gate to be mocked by the poor while he figured out what to do with him.

    Alexandros sent an embassy under his brother, Basileios Megalos Komnenos, to Krakow. Jan Olbracht was busy with the intricacies of bringing Poland and Lithuania together in formal, not just personal, union, but he was eager to get his hands on his idiot brother and thus remove one of the greatest threats to his rule. He offered the Trapezuntines twenty thousand pounds of gold[5] in exchange for Aleksandras, but this was rebuffed. The Trapezuntines did not want gold or coin, they had more than enough of both. Not that they would refuse it, to be sure, but there were still more important things. One of the chief demands of Alexandros was that the Poles and Lithuanians extend a former declaration of protection over his realm. There were few states that the Ottomans feared, and he would not pass up the opportunity to bring one of them to his defense. Jan Olbracht considered this fair, and was about to agree before Basileios inserted the final clause. The king’s closest brother, Fryderyk, would be taken to Trapezous as a hostage. Seeing this as an insult to his honor, Jan Olbracht had the Pont thrown out on his ear. A few weeks later, a second embassy arrived in Krakow, led by the aftokrator’s far more diplomatic half-brother, Basileios Mgeli. Mgeli flattered the King, telling him of how the insults which the previous embassy had been egregious and completely unsanctioned, and of how it was entirely right for him to expel him. Mgeli told Jan Olbracht that the Trapezuntines would greatly reduce their demands to apologize for this insolence. They would ask for only 15,000 pounds of gold and the fortress of Ginestra, which was the only formerly Genoese possession in the Black Sea the Trapezuntines hadn’t been able to con-- protect. Olbracht considered this acceptable, and promised to turn over Ginestra when his brother was given over to him. Mgeli also convinced him to enter into an anti-Ottoman defensive pact. After all, there was nothing for either of them to gain by allowing the Sublime Porte to increase in size and strength, and so they should act together, as Christian brothers, to stem the tide of the Islamic hordes which surrounded their beacons of light.

    Aleksandras was returned to Lithuania in early 1503, and shortly afterwards a Trapezuntine garrison was installed in Ginestra. It would prove to be excellent timing, for only a few months later Trapezous would be plunged into a crisis similar to Lithuania’s…..


    [1] This is Matthais Hunyadi. ‘Matthew the Raven’ is just such a badass name that I find myself compelled to use it.

    [2] Better known as Michael Glinski. Funnily enough, I actually killed him off in ‘Gog and Magog’ but accidently left it out, so he’s still alive and kicking.

    [3] Better known as Konstanty Ostrogski, he is most notable in OTL for participating in a crusade against Muscovy in spite of being Orthodox himself.

    [4] The same road-destroying rains that plagued Napoleon and Hitler effected the moving of the two factions.

    [5] This is actually a surprisingly small ransom; the ransom for Richard I of England, whose realm was about as valuable as Lithuania, had a ransom of some 150,000 pounds of silver.
    Part XXIX: The Sons of Alexander (1477-1506)
  • Eparkhos

    Part XXIX: The Sons of Alexander (1477-1506)
    Or, how not to raise the heirs to the throne.

    The House of Komnenos had nearly gone extinct during the early 13th Century, when its male lineage had been reduced to Alexios and David Megalos Komnenos. However, after the establishment of the Trapezuntine Empire it had rebounded considerably, gaining a reputation for fecundity and beauty that spread far beyond the bounds of their realm. The most recent generation of rulers had been no exception to this, and by the turn of the 16th century there were more Megalo-Komnenoi then ever before. In fact, the Komnenoi were presented with a rare problem for eastern dynasties[1]; there were too many legitimate men….

    Branches had begun to spread from the ancestral tree since the mass executions and blindings of the anarchic 1340s. The majority of the Komnenoi were descendants of Alexios III (r.1349-1390), although there was a distant Italian branch that had been founded by a son of Ioannes III who fled into exile in Genoa. This branch, the Comnino family, would eventually wind up as doges of Savona. However, these were far enough removed to be mostly irrelevant. The Alexian line then split after Manouel III, who had two sons, Alexios and Manouel. Alexios became emperor, while Manouel traveled to Morea, where he took up service as a cavalrymen. By 1500, he had a dozen living descendants in Morea and Boeotia, several of them landed pronoiai. One of these, Andronikos, would emigrate to New England in 1503, becoming the first Greek to die in the western hemisphere.

    The Trapezuntine imperial line really began to splinter with Alexios IV. Alexios had three sons, Ioannes IV, Alexandros I and David, who all in turn had children. Ioannes’ only male child, Alexios, was born in 1445 and would die in 1506, and had married a Lazic noblewomen named Maria of Kapnanion, and in turn had six children, of whom three would live to adulthood. Among these were two sons, Ioannes (b.1466 d.1533) and Nikephoros (b.1472), who would in turn have children. David’s two sons[2], Basileios (b.1451 d.1509) and Manouel (b.1456 d.1518) both had sons of their own as well, bringing the number of Ioannes’ grandson and great-grandsons, barring the Alexandrian line, to eight. None of these cousins would reach particularly high status, but they all had at least a semi-valid claim to the throne.

    As previously mentioned, Alexandros I had two sons, Alexios and Sabbas. They are best known for their struggle for a throne neither of them would live to sit upon, but the two brothers did have a great deal of dynastic importance. Sabbas had one posthumous daughter, Anna, who would be forced into a monastery after her father’s death and, taking a note from her forebearer of the same name, wrote a history of her grandfather’s and cousins’ reigns. She died in 1544 at the age of seventy-five, the longest-lived of Alexandros’ grandchildren. Of considerably more importance are the children of Alexios, the elder brother. As we know, Alexios’ eldest son, Alexandros, became Alexandros II in 1469 and ruled in his own right from 1474. His children, being the offspring of a sitting aftokrator, will be covered later. However, Alexios also had other children, namely Basileios (b.1463) and Anna (b.1466).

    Basileios married Maria Palaiologina, daughter of Andreas Palaiologos, in 1487. This was done in an attempt to secure an alliance between the two chief Greek states after the decline of Venetian power in the region, but unfortunately no alliance ever came of it. The Palaiologians were wracked with a period of intrigue following Andreas’ death in 1489, and upon the succession of Konstantinos to the Morean throne he disowned his hated sister, essentially leaving the alliance worthless. However, it appears that Basileios and Maria truly loved each other, for they vigorously resisted any of the proposed divorces that floated around the court in the early 1490s. The marriage produced five children (Alexios, Maria, Andreas, Alexeia, Sophia)[3], of which only two, Andreas and Sophia, would live to adulthood. Basileios himself was a fairly unremarkable man, spending most of his time drinking or engaged in polo or wrestling. His only accomplishment of note was his botching of the embassy to Krakow in 1503, after which he faded into obscurity and died sometime in the 1510s.

    Anna was married in 1483 to the Prince of Novgorod-Slusky, Vasily II the Mute. She was a constant presence in Nizhny Novgorod, helping to introduce Pontic culture and art into the distant lands of the Russias. She gave birth to a number of children, among them five sons. One of these was the famed tsar, Aleksandr I, but her tutelage of her sons and Aleksandr’s eminent career is beyond the scope of the story[4]. After a long and hopefully fulfilling life, she died in 1543 at the age of 78.

    Of course, that brings us to the children of Alexandros and Martha. The marriage was quite fecund, and despite the distant kinship between them no sign of genetic defect was apparent. There were a grand total of six prophrygenitoi[5] born to the Imperial couple, Alexios (b.1477), Martha the Younger (b.1479), Theodoros (b.1480), Eirene (b.1482), Ioannes (b.1483) and Romanos (b.1485). Unfortunately, Theodoros was stillborn, and Ioannes died of an unknown disease in 1491. However, in terms of medieval child mortality rates, four out of six is an almost shocking survival rate. With Alexandros busy attending to the affairs of state, Martha and her appointees effectively raised the Imperial children in isolation. The ‘other aftokrator’ was one of her unflattering nicknames, and she was as equally strict a parent as she had been iron-willed as an empress consort. From the time they could walk, the princes and princesses were never unsupervised, although Martha was pain-staking in making sure that they were never spoiled. This took the form of beatings for any transgression, random beatings for slights which they had performed in secret (a tall task for a five-year old under constant watch) and being locked into a darkened wine cellar to think about the eternal damnation that awaited them if they so much as thought about sinning. The lives of the princes in particular were bleak, being woken before dawn, ‘bathed’ in the crashing surf, then paraded between tutors and priests for the next fifteen hours before being put to bed by an armed guard. Their only breaks were two-hour sessions of shifting mounds of dirt back and forth between two mounds in one of the palace gardens twice a day. Supposedly, this was so miserable that one of his minders caught a young Alexios muttering that he hoped for an Ottoman victory in the ongoing siege, because it couldn’t possibly be worse. For this, the young boy was whipped.

    The only relief for the young princes were journeys away from Trapezous with their father, who took Alexios and Romanos on semi-frequent riding and hunting expeditions, as well as occasional inspections of bandons. Whether or not the aftokrator was aware of the abuse being levied upon his sons is unknown, and if he did, whether he was intimidated by his battleaxe of a consort or if he agreed with her methods is also unknown. However, this strange dichotomy between loving father and tyrannical mother would explain some of the stranger tendencies exhibited by Alexios upon his ascension to the throne.

    In spite of her cruel methods, it cannot be denied that Martha got results. By the age of twelve, both of the princes were proficient in Greek (both classical and Pontic), Latin and French, the former which were the chief language of Europe and the upcoming lingua latina[6], respectively. They were also capable students in math and the sciences, although this took the form of rote memorization rather than the creativity and encouragement of the modern classroom, as even the slightest mistake would get them severely beaten. They were also (seemingly) devout, well-versed in theology, biblical quotes, and scriptural analysis, although these too were born out of fear rather than any real piety. They were frequently trotted out before visiting foreigners as a sign of Trapezuntine stability and legitimacy, although, as a Spanish ambassador noted in 1490, “They look pale and wretched, as if street urchins had been abducted and dressed in Imperial robes….it is altogether disconcerting.”

    As the two princes matured, Martha increased her vigilance, instituting a system of double guards so that a sole minder could not become overly-attached to or, even worse, soft on either of the boys. However, they were permitted to associate with outsiders for the first time in their lives, with closely-inspected visits with the children of prominent courtiers. However, little ever came of this, as neither of the princes were able to develop lasting relationships with either of them, partly because Martha was deathly afraid of sodomites and so scrutinized the reports of any meetings, having any child she deemed as too friendly sent aware at best and imprisoned at worst. Alexios in particular had troubles, developing a pattern of lavishing praise and affection upon a new potential friend, then turning against them at the slightest insult and attacking them. In 1489, Alexios appealed to his father and won the right to daily rides. He, along with several escorts, would range through the wilds for hours on end, anything to get away from the overbearing presence of his mother and her stooges. During these rides, Alexios was seen to speak to horse, which wasn’t especially concerning, and trees, which was. Indeed, he even began speaking to a fir which he passed by every day as ‘Isaakios’, which his guards found more than a little unnerving.

    In 1494, Alexios married Françoise of Berry (b.1472), the sister of Charles VIII of France. The marriage had been a difficult one to arrange, which had required the concerted effort of the Trapezuntine diplomatic corps to arrange and which took five years to complete, from the betrothal first being made to the actual wedding occurring, in French-aligned Naples. Françoise was a deeply pious woman, who spent more time in prayer than she did anything else, and the two seemed to have much in common. However, upon returning to Trapezous, Alexios effectively ignored his wife, spending most of his time out riding through the countryside. This left poor Françoise alone with only the small number of servants she had brought with her from France[7], and she soon refused to speak with Alexios, who doesn’t seem to have notices. The two passed a decade in marriage having only shared a bed twice, both on the voyage back to Trapezous.

    Romanos seems to have had the opposite marriage, marrying Tamar of Kartvelia (b.1488) in 1502. The two spent all of their time together, with Romanos seeking his wife’s approval and guidance in every matter, regardless of its true importance. He refused to be separated from her, which drove Tamar to the brink of madness. In 1504, she had a nervous breakdown and took holy orders to escape her husband, requiring guards to be stationed at the doors of her convent to keep Romanos from pestering her. This whole affair became the subject of great ridicule, with multiple anonymous obscene poems surviving to the present day. The most famous of these states that Alexios was a sodomite and that they would all be better off if Romanos had been one as well. It’s likely that Martha the Younger and Eirene had similar problems, but as they were shipped off to Poland and Moldova (respectively), we can’t be sure.

    The strange behaviour of his children and the increasingly domineering nature of his wife, who was attempting to micromanage the affairs of her husband now that her children had escaped her grasp, took a heavy toll on Alexandros. The aftokrator had by now spent nearly three decades on the throne and had become deeply tired of life, probably experiencing a midlife crisis. His own mortality was increasingly present in Alexandros’ everyday life, the sharpest reminders coming with the death of Alexios Mgeli in 1500 and his mother, the Dowager Queen Keteon, in 1502. Mgeli had been born all the way back in 1427, and had spent most of his life in service to the empire in one way or the other[8], and his absence from his once-familiar post in one of the wings of court cast a shadow over Alexandros. The death of his mother, who had been a pillar of his life ever since that fateful day at Kapnanion, shook him to his core, and the aftokrator withdrew into himself, spending a great deal of time in seclusion. He was tired of ruling, and just wanted to be done with it all. But he couldn’t just abdicate; Alexios and Romanos were both morons who would run the country into the ground. He began pouring over the Bible and other texts, looking for a way out of his labyrinth. Then, in late 1505, he found it.

    On the morning of March 15, 1506, Alexandros strode into court two hours late. The courtiers, who had been nervously awaiting the aftokrator rose to greet him. Alexandros, who smelled strongly of wine, fired a pistol into the air and shouted for them all to shut up. He went on a long, invective-laced rant about the moral failings of the various characters of court. He was disgusted by them in every way, and had only stayed in Trapezous as long as he had because the sea was too rough to sail. He concluded his speech by telling all of them that he hoped they were raped to death by Turkmen, named one of his nephews[9], Nikephoros, his heir apparent, then abdicated, effective immediately. Alexandros then walked out, straight to a waiting galley, and set out for Tmutarakan, never to return….


    [1] I forgot what I was going to write here

    [2] Historically he had three sons, but here he was blinded and sent into exile, so George was never born.

    [3] There was a long text I was going to put here about Byzantine naming conventions, but I’m too tired.

    [4] Although I will note that the famous “Volga” anecdote is quite characteristic. Upon being told by several of his subordinates that Volga Novgorod (as Nizhny Novgorod was renamed) was too close to the frontier to serve as a capital, he laughed and said “The only thing to fear about the frontiers is that I may run out of them.” He then had them killed.

    [5] There are no reports of a Trapezuntine Purple Chamber, but with how incredibly rich they all were, I figure they probably built a replica

    [6] TTL’s Lingua franca

    [7] Françoise refused to convert to Orthodoxy, and so was ostracized by the Trapezuntine court. There was a nasty rumor she spent more time with her confessor than she did with her husband, which was true, but not in that sense.

    [8] Mgeli was, canonically, the last person born before the PoD.

    [9] The Komnenoi never had a codified succession law, as evidenced by the AIMA prophecy, so this was perfectly legal.
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    Part XXX: The Brief Reign of Nikephoros I (1506-1507)
  • Eparkhos

    Going with 2. Too tired to respond to questions. Will in the morning.

    Part XXX: The Brief Reign of Nikephoros I (1506-1507)

    The sudden abdication of Alexandros II in 1506 sent Trapezous and the Trapezuntine court reeling. The aftokrator had presided over more than two decades of stability during a period of intense court politics and foreign diplomacy after the siege of 1485, and many believed that he would continue doing so for another decade, at least. As such, none but the most paranoid and cautious of the courtly schemers had made plans for the aftokrator’s surprise abdication, and even fewer of these had considered that it would be neither of his sons who took his place but instead an obscure nephew. The coming times would be interesting, and not just in the Chinese sense….

    Of course, when unexpected events strike, those who are best in a position to exploit them are those who had already made contingency plans for them. In the above mentioned case, the only court figure who had considered the possibility of Nikephoros ascending to the throne--as well as every other male member of the Imperial family, and then some--was a woman named Anastasia Katsarina. Katsarina had been born into the ranks of a minor merchant family from Sinope in 1472, shortly after the return of Trapezuntine control. Unfortunately, the Katsaroi had been bankrupted when their entire mercantile fleet (an old cog and a small galley; they were a minor trading family, after all) was burned in the Ottoman attack on Sinope in 1485. The Katsaroi had then picked up stakes and moved to Trapezous, where it was hoped that a revival in the family fortunes would occur. It did, in a way, because in the 1490s, Anastasia became a hetaira[1] in the Imperial court. This brought her into close proximity (heh) with a number of prominent noblemen, and within a few months she had turned to the far riskier but far more profitable business of information dealing. Throughout the 1490s, she was able to construct a network of informants--mostly prostitutes and servants, but also a handful of impoverished nobles and aides--throughout the court, which allowed her to gather information on the goings-on of the darker corners of the palace practically at will. An anonymous poet noted around 1498 that “Upon an agreement being made in secret, three parties know of it; the former two being those who conducted it and the third being the Universal Spider[2].” This, of course, made her both a loose end to be tied up and an indispensable information (and thus power) broker to many courtesans, often at the same time, and so Katsarina was forced to have contingency plans for any occurance to keep her head upon her shoulders. This eventually paid off with the sudden accession of Nikephoros I, for which she was the only figure prepared to shift to make the best of this new ruler.

    It is often said, and probably true, that Anastasia Katsarina was more prepared for the beginning of Nikephoros’ reign than Nikephoros was. The aftokrator’s nephew[3] was on a hunting trip in the Pontic mountains when Alexandros abdicated, and it took several days for a dispatch from Trapezous to track down the aftokrator at an isolated hunting lodge in the eastern foothills. Upon being informed that he was now the aftokrator, Nikephoros initially dismissed it as a failed joke, and told the courier that he should be more careful and not deliver treasonous messages. After several hours, he was finally convinced to at least return to Trapezous and, upon returning to the capital, was shocked to be greeted by a cheering crowd, who hailed him as Nikephoros I. Supposedly in a state of shock, Nikephoros was crowned as aftokrator that afternoon by Basileios II, the Patriarch of Pontos, in the Trapezuntine Agia Sophia, and retired to his chambers in an isolated wing of the palace to mull things over.

    Nikephoros, it is important to understand, was far from a good candidate for the throne. He was a quiet and unambitious man, a member of the Imperial bureaucracy who occasionally went out for hunts with his cousins but otherwise was effectively a non-entity as dynastic matters were concerned. In 1494 he had married a Lazic woman named Eirene of Oph[4], a quiet and timid woman, whom he appears to have married out of love, an exceedingly rare occurrence for a nobleman during the Renaissance. The marriage had produced only a single daughter, Alexeia (b.1498) and several unfortunate stillborn pregnancies. Most importantly, Nikephoros, outside of his surname, had no connections to the traditional aristocracy whatsoever, which made his rule tenuous at best and doomed to failure at worst.

    After a great deal of consideration, it finally dawned upon Nikephoros that he was now the aftokrator, and that even if he abdicated now then there would still be a target on his back because he was one of the scarce few who had managed to sit upon the throne that so many lusted after. However, he never made the change in character, the adoption of the certain ruthlessness that is needed to stay in power once you have gained it. His first mistake was to refuse to treat with Katsarina, even after his advisors hastily informed him of the great deal of power she held in court. In Nikephoros’ mind, it would be wrong for him, a married man, to have anything to do with a courtesan such as her, and so he willingly cut himself off from a potentially vital source of support. His second, and most egregious, mistake was to allow Alexandros’ sons to go free. Nikephoros, it appears, felt guilty for displacing the two poor men from what he considered to be their birthright, and so refused to heap the further misfortune of imprisonment or blinding upon them. This flew in the face of both common sense and the special unspoken rules of Byzantine and Byzantine-derived courts, which stated quite plainly that any rival claimants needed to be done away with, be it by blinding, tonsuring, imprisonment or straight murder, as quickly as possible. Nikephoros either could not bring himself to do this or believed that they simply didn’t pose a threat; After all, Alexios was, to all appearances, insane, and Romanos was almost comically indecisive.

    After taking office, the new emperor went about continuing the policies of Alexandros, especially in regards to foreign alliances. He spent most of his time focused on diplomacy, by which he neglected the eternally festering court and its politics, as well as the feelings of the army and the bandons, by which he might have been able to preserve his rule indefinitely. Remember, the survival of any Trapezuntine regime rested upon three pillars--the army, the church and the court. The church, for the most part, backed the deeply pious Nikephoros, and had the aftokrator been able to rally the army to his cause, he could have easily clung to power for much longer than he truly did. That Nikephoros barely altered the policies of his predecessor leads to the obvious conclusion that he was an empty shirt, albeit one with the presence of mind not to abandon a well-function system on a whim. This view of him is furthered by his lack of decisive action against the schemers and intriguers of the Trapezuntine court. Alexandros had allowed the managed chaos to exist, because he viewed it as a way to knock down any budding rivals through clandestine means. Nikephoros, it appears, allowed it it continue to exist for no apparent reason. All in all, it seems that Nikephoros was an unimaginative but decent ruler, the sort of monarch whose reign would be glossed over in most history books barring some unforeseen disaster.

    The surprise ascension of Nikephoros had left the court divided into two factions. The first had banked heavily on the ascension of Alexios following his father’s death or abdication, and so they had a great deal of invested interest in installing him upon the Imperial throne. The second party were those who were willing to work with Nikephoros, seeing an opportunity to increase their own power at the expense of a weak monarch. The leader of this second faction was one Konstantinos Romanou, and exiled westerner who had managed to work his way up into the nobility with a great deal of murder and blackmail. Romanou had managed to set himself up as an information broker similar to Katsarina. Her spurning by the aftokrator in mid-1506 had placed the ‘Universal Spider’ decisively in the former camp, and so throughout 1506 and into 1507 the two intriguers and their many supporters were having it out in the darkened halls of the palace. Nikephoros, of course, remained willfully ignorant of all of this, because he believed that if he became aware of a murder plot or something similar and failed to stop it, no matter the realpolitik impacts of it, it would count against his soul on God’s ledger. A noble belief, to be sure, but the kind of belief held by nobles.

    These events culminated in August 1507. Alexios Katsaros, Katsarina’s half-brother, was a merchant of middling repute in Trapezous, having succeeded in reviving the Katsaros family name in the mercantile currents of the Black Sea. One night, shortly after one of Romanou’s chief lieutenants had been poisoned, a small group of mercenaries broke into Katsaros’ home. They abducted the poor merchant and tortured him for several days, trying to discover some incriminating evidence they could use against his sister. To his credit, Katsaros refused to give up anything for several days of agony, but finally broke down and confessed that his sibling had been involved in a plot against the aftokrator’s life. This was false, but by that point the poor wretch was willing to say anything to get the pain to stop. This information was relegated to Romanou, who at once set out to inform Nikephoros, who was at that time at a hunting lodge in the western mountains. However, Katsarina was also informed of her brother’s death and, furious, made plans for Romanou himself to be axed. A few nights later, Romanou and his retinue arrived in an inn near Sinope. They went to bed suspecting nothing, only for the building itself to explode less than an hour after their arrival. This was attributed to a great deal of manure stored in the building’s basement, and Romanou’s death was written off as an unfortunate accident. Katsarina was now the uncontested power broker of the court.

    Alexios, throughout all of this, had remained in court, seemingly ignoring the potential danger to his own life and freedom. As before, he remained primarily engaged in riding out in the wilds beyond the city, with his social experiences consisting mostly of talking to himself and occasionally having violent seizures, neither of which were traits that made him an ideal ruler. However, there were a great number of noblemen who had invested a great deal of time and money into winning them to their side and so there was still a potential candidacy for him. There were also some hardliners who believed that the throne was his by right, as Alexandros had ignored centuries of succession precedents to cover up for his own failings in neglecting the rearing of his heirs. However, support for his cause was limited by the general public opinion being that he was crazy. This was not true, Alexios was (mostly) fine. He genuinely disliked human contact, but the general insanity, such as randomly convulsing or having nervous breakdowns upon being exposed to certain types of fruit, were all an act. Alexios was fully aware that he was a loose end that would be tied up even a semi-competent ruler, and as such he had adopted the mannerisms of a lunatic so as to not appear threatening. Even as Nikephoros seemed to ignore him, Alexios retained this healthy dose of paranoia and kept up the act. However, he also maintained his own network of spies and informants, albeit under the guise of his secretary, Andronikos Ralleis Kantakouzenos, and as such remained quite aware of ongoing trends in the court. He used this to maneuver himself into a position to advance his claim to the throne, in spite of his outward appearance of retardation.

    In November 1507, Alexios spoke to Katsarina, a momentous occasion for such a reclusive man. A few weeks previous, Nikephoros had finally stirred from his stupor, and had ordered the arrest of a priest named Basileios Davidopoulos for insulting the monarchy. Basileios had been the only one of Alexios’ childhood tutors to show even an ounce of kindness to the poor boy, Alexios had clung to him dearly. He had been the closest thing to a mentor and advocate for the prince in court, and when Nikephoros had repeated the common insult that Alexios liked horses, Davidopoulos flew into a rage and snapped at him, for which he was arrested. His ward was quite angry at this, but also feared that this would lead to Nikephoros arresting him. Katsarina was more than a little shocked to have the prince, who normally spoke through intermediaries due to his hatred for human contact, speak to her directly, but was willing to listen to his proposition. As Alexios said, the two had a shared interest in getting him upon the throne. Alexios’ interest is quite obvious, but Katsarina’s is slightly less so. Alexios had correctly guessed that her ultimate desire was to keep a firm grip on power, for which she would need to be an active member of the sitting regime or at the very least tied to it in such a way that she could not easily be foisted out. For a woman in this time period, the only position that she could aim for that wouldn’t leave her as disposable (at least in the Orthodox world) was as aftokratorissa, the wife of the sitting ruler. Alexios promised that if Katsarina leveraged her considerable network to help him get into power, they would marry, thus securing her her desired hold on power and Alexios his desired support of the court. Neither of them found the other especially attractive or even pleasant to be around, but the proposed power-sharing agreement was acceptable to the both of them. And so, the plot against Nikephoros began in earnest.

    Of course, it isn’t exactly easy to stage a coup, and before Nikephoros could be dethroned a great deal of planning was needed. The court was fairly solidly under Katsarina’s control, but the court alone was not enough to overthrow a sitting monarch. The church was firmly in Nikephoros’ corner, and this left the army as the final potential column that could be knocked out from under the sitting regime. The army had remained uninvolved in court politics during Alexandros II’s long reign, but many of them had expressed discontent with the abdication of their veteran commander in favor of a literal who. Nikephoros had since done little to earn their loyalty, having refused to call out the bandons to defend the frontier from Turkmen raiders in 1507. As such, while many of them were skeptical of giving Alexios power over anything, several of the higher-ranking officers were willing to help install a new aftokrator. Chief among these was Mikhael Kantakouzenos Philanthropenos, who was on the verge of retiring at the age of seventy-three. Alexios chose to reveal his ruse to Philanthropenos, which proved to be all that was needed to convince him to join his cause. With Philanthropenos would surely come a sizeable chunk of the army, as he was well-respected as a wise and capable commander.

    However, they couldn’t just march on the capital. The eleutheroi had, just as Alexandros I had intended, remained completely apolitical and fiercely loyal to the throne. Any Trapezuntine rebels would have to fight through them to get through the aftokrator, in which case they could very easily be defeated. Instead, they needed to attack Nikephoros while he was without the protection of his guards. This opportunity came in the autumn of 1507. Nikephoros had remained completely unaware of the brewing plot against him, and so when in October 1507 word began to spread across the court of a legendary, almost mythical, really, albino stag spotted near Kapnanion, he at once rushed out to go hunting. He traveled only with a handful of eleutheroi and his usual hunting companions. On 26 November , Nikephoros and his party rode into the interior along a narrow, winding road. Here, Alexios, Philanthropenos and three Alexian bandons were lying and wait, and as soon as Nikephoros and his party passed by them, they rushed out and fell upon them. Taken by surprise, the eleutheroi were quickly overwhelmed, and Nikephoros was summarily executed. Alexios and Philanthropenos then marched back to Trapezous, with Nikephoros’ head on a pike.

    With their nominal leader’s head no longer attached to his body, the eleutheroi accepted the coup as a fait accompli and allowed Alexios to enter the capital. The church, of course, protested, but it’s not like they had an army to resist, and after a few hours of soldiers drilling outside of the Hagia Sophia, Patriarch Basileios II reluctantly followed the guardsmen’s lead. On 1 December, 1507, Alexios Alexandropoulos Megas Komnenos was crowned as Alexios V of the Trapezuntine Empire. A few hours later, Alexios V married Anastasia Katsarina, who was then invested as co-empress. Alexios then had a dozen people arrested and executed for treason, including Martha, and several dozen more blinded and exiled, including his own brother and two cousins. This was both incredibly ironic for a blatant usurper as well as an ominous hint of the shape of things to come.

    [1] This is a nice way of saying courtesan, which in turn is a nice way of saying prostitute.
    [2] The Greek form of this is ‘O Katholikos Arakhne’, or in its Anglicized version, ‘The Catholic Arachnae’. I just find that amusing.
    [3] ‘Nephew’ was a term bestowed upon all male relatives of the sitting emperor to within four degrees of affinity, regardless of their actual relation. In truth, Nikephoros was a distant cousin of Alexandros II.
    [4] Oph is actually home to the largest Greek-speaking population in Turkey in OTL.
    Part XXXI: The Samtskheote War (1507-1509)
  • Eparkhos

    Forewarning: I won't be posting on this TL tomorrow, I want to get my new TL off the ground as quickly as possible.

    Part XXXI: The Samtskheote War (1507-1509)

    The coup of 1507 had left Alexios V and Katsarina as the undisputed rulers of the Trapezuntine Empire. However, as in all states in this period, there was still a great deal of the populace who believed that God’s support for a regime, or lack thereof, was displayed through military feats and victories. Alexios’ coup had seen the involvement of the bandons in a military capacity, but massacring a royal entourage from an ambuscade wasn’t exactly an awe-inspiring victory. Like his father before him, Alexios would spend the first years of his reign trying to establish legitimacy for himself by military means, while Katsarina solidified their rule on the home front.

    Alexandros’ long reign had seen Trapezous’ strength girded with a network of alliances and non-aggression pacts with all of her immediate neighbors, bar only the Ottomans, who were far too powerful to fight. However, the looming civil war between Ebülhayr Paşa and Mehmed III could present an excellent opportunity to expand the buffer zone with the Ottomans. This conflict will be discussed at a later time, but eastern Anatolia was primarily loyal to Mehmed III, who would need to muster every man he had to fight the numerically superior forces of Paşa. Indeed, as the spring of 1508 drew near, Alexios ordered that the western bandons be ready for quick mobilization in case the conflict broke out before an Imperial army could arrive to intervene.

    However, the first conflict of Alexios V’s reign would not come from the west but from the east. In November 1508, Alek’sandre II of Kartvelia keeled over after nearly three decades upon the throne, shattering Kartvelia. The succession laws of this time, while not the demented empire-destroying Salic breed that were common in the west, still mandated that every son of the late king be given a great deal of land to compensate for not receiving the crown itself. This was obviously problematic in that it gave any ambitious son the means to overthrow his brother, but even worse, Alek’sandre had five sons; Bagrat (b.1485)[1], David (b.1486), Vakhtang (b.1492), Giorgi (b.1497) and Demetri (b.1497). Obviously, Giorgi and Demetri weren’t exactly in a good position to coup their brother, seeing as they were only twelve years of age, but the elder three could all spell disaster for each other. Better still, Bagrat, who was legally entitled to inherit the crown, had been leading a raid against the Shirvanites at the time of his father’s death and so was trapped on the far side of a mountain range until the frost came. This left David and Vakhtang to fight each other in Tbilisi, not over whether Bagrat should receive his birthright, but rather over which one of them should usurp him. In April 1509, David barely escaped an assassination attempt and fled the capital, eventually reaching relative safety in Trapezous. Following his departure, Vakhtang crowned himself as Vakhtang V, officially beginning another civil war.

    Obviously, securing the stability of Kartvelia was a vital Trapezuntine policy, as it was one of their best allies and formed a bulwark against raiders coming from the north and east. Under most circumstances, the Trapezuntines would have swiftly intervened on behalf of whichever prince’s position appeared the most stable. However, the unexpected arrival of David to the court changed all of that. If Alexios could manage to install the third brother upon the Kartvelian throne, he would gain an ally who would be beholden to him for the rest of his reign, effectively turning their larger neighbor into a vassal (or so he thought). However, if he failed in doing so, then it could potentially see the collapse of the ancient alliance, which would leave Trapezous out in the cold, and could even embolden the Karamanids enough to try and one-up the Ottomans with an invasion. It was a very high-risk, high-reward situation. Alexios was in favor of the foremost course of action--raising the bandons and marching eastwards to install David upon his throne. However, Anastasia argued against it, as it was simply too much of a risk, not realizing she was putting herself in near equal amounts of peril. Besides, they could simply imprison David and use him as a bargaining chip further down the road. The two went back and forth on the matter for several weeks, but finally, Anastasia prevailed upon her husband. David was imprisoned and “blinded”[2], in fact merely being shipped across the Black Sea to join Alexandros and Romanos in Tmutarakan. Alexios and Trapezous pledged their support to Vakhtang, and in the summer of 1509 a Pontic army was raised to join the war.

    The intervention of the Trapezuntines did not substantially alter the balance of power in Kartvelia, as Vakhtang had already had the majority of the kingdom’s men-at-arms at his back. Bagrat had been able to scrounge up some 8,000 footmen from Kartli and a few thousand more auxiliary Shirvanite cavalry and Avar footmen. Vakhtang, in contrast, had raised more than 25,000 men out of his own strength, which was shortly thereafter supplanted by 20,000 Trapezuntines. Vakhtang’s plan was to trap his brother and his army in the Upper Alazani Valley, in which they could be encircled and destroyed, while Bagrat’s plan was to try and slip past his brother’s army into the western two-thirds of the kingdom, where the local nobles could hopefully be rallied to his banner in exchange for increased privileges.

    Both Vakhtang and Alexios knew that Bagrat, while significantly weaker than either of them, still posed a threat and that weight of numbers was not everything. Alexios in particular was afraid that if he let Bagrat live, the rebel would try and have him assassinated. As such, they set a trap in August 1508. As the royal Kartvelian army moved to encircle the valley, they left a gap along the road near the fortress town of Kvetera. Bagrat, seeing this as an opportunity to escape and move further westward as he had hoped, bolted through this gap, his advance scouts and pathfinders hindered in their efficacy by a lack of time and difficult terrain. As such, when the Bagratid army emerged from the passes west of Kvetera to find a Trapezuntine army arrayed before them across the plain of Tianeti, they were caught completely flat-footed. Bagrat ordered a retreat, only to find that Kvetera, which had appeared to be abandoned, had in fact been occupied by a concealed garrison of Vakhtangists, who now revealed themselves and cut their retreat. Thinking quickly, Bagrat led his men off the road into a small river valley, carved by the Aniskhevi River, and raced southwards along its banks. The Trapezuntines gave chase, following the Kartvelians across several miles of rough terrain. On 29 August, 1508, the Trapezuntines finally caught the Bagratids upon a ridge seperating the watersheds of the Aniskhevi and Kintiskhevi River. Alexios pinned them in place with the bulk of his forces, then sent his right flank around the ridge to encircle them. After several brutal hours of fighting, the Bagratid army was slaughtered to a man, the only survivor being Bagrat himself, who was led off in chains. Alexios lost only 2,000 men killed or severely injured, a remarkably small butcher’s bill. However, he considered this too high and, after a night of paranoid ramblings, had one of his subcommanders executed for trying to get him killed, albeit indirectly, and several others blinded for conspiring to aid him.

    After winning this decisive victory, the Trapezuntines linked back up with Vakhtang’s forces. The Kartvelian had his brother blinded and imprisoned in the isolated fortress city of Maghas, deep in the heart of the Greater Caucasus and from which escape would bring only death by exposure. With his hold on all of Kartvelia now secured, Vakhtang appeared to be ready to stand down the Kartvelian army. However, Alexios intervened, and managed to convince the newly-consolidated monarch to accompany him on a joint campaign that would further legitimize both of them against a common enemy; the Samtskheotes.

    The Samtskheots have, of course, appeared most prominently so far in their betrayal of a joint Kartvelian-Trapezuntine army at the Battle of Saint Eugenios in 1485. That this betrayal had failed to prevent a de facto Ottoman defeat was disastrous for the atabegdom, which was now left sandwiched between Kartvelia and Trapezous with no Ottoman protection to be had. After getting his affairs in order, Alek’sandre had campaigned heavily against the Samtskheotes, executing the traitorous Qvarqvare II in 1488 and briefly annexing the entire region back into the Kartvelian crown. However, the terrain here was not at all favorable to Kartvelian settlement, more resembling the plains and rolling hills of Mongolia thousands of miles away than it did the Kartvelian valleys and mountains only a few score miles to the north. Attempts at intensive agriculture failed miserably due to poor soil quality and constant raids, from both the tribal vassals of Karaman and of the Qutlughids. After three years, Alek’sandre finally swallowed his pride and allowed the settlers to return to their homes. He settled several small bands of Turko-Mongols from the far side of the mountains, hoping that their presence would keep raiders from attacking the far more valuable heartland to their north. This had worked for several years, but after a decade and a half the nomads had begun to grow antsy. After Alek’sandre’s death, the leader of the largest band, Mengü, revolted and proclaimed himself the Khan of Qersh, refusing to bow down to the weak farmers in Tbilisi.

    This obviously insulted Vakhtang. However, it was Alexios who persuaded the monarch to press the attack even as civil war had only just been quenched. The Trapezuntines would also suffer from Samtskheote raids, as there were a number of passes that led across the mountains that lay within their territory. Alexios wanted to both prevent these raids as well as eliminate the possibility of future raids by securing or erecting fortresses on the far side of the mountains. Vakhtang also wanted to close off the southern approach to Kartvelia to any future raiders, and so the two rulers agreed to work together. They dispatched an ultimatum to Qersh in November 1508, intending to march against them the following spring.

    The arrival of this ultimatum in Qersh had a disastrous effect. Many of the minor bands immediately fled from the Khanate, not wanting to risk it all for some upstart who they hardly cared for. This left Mengü with only a few thousand horsemen, all of the three largest tribes who remained loyal to him. He began drawing up plans for meeting the Kartvelians and their allies, hoping to draw them out onto the plains and encircle them as so many other horse lords had done throughout history. As such, he ordered all potential provisions to be stripped from the north and west of his country, so as to deny his enemies forage while he maneuvered them into a kill zone.

    Unfortunately for him, he would never get the opportunity to employ these plans. As soon as the passes froze, the allies struck. Suspecting that the Samtksheotes would have destroyed significant amounts of foodstuffs, the allies had split their forces, both outnumbering the defending horsemen. Alexios advanced along the western road from Borjomi, while Vakhtang and his men moved along the road from Tbilisi. Mengü devoted his attention to harassing the Trapezuntines, as he thought that they were less eager to fight than the Kartvelians and thus could more easily be persuaded to withdraw. However, Mengü significantly underestimated the size of the Trapezuntine army, and so was unaware that the force he was facing was in fact 5,000 men smaller than the one which had departed Borjomi. As the Samtskheotes pulled back, harassing the Trapezuntines as they went, they were unknowingly tightening their own noose. On 28 April, as the Samtskheotes were fording the Kuranenri River, just downstream from the small fortress of Art’aani (OTL Ardahan), a Trapezuntine formation, led by one Ioannes Sabbiades, sprung upon them from ambush, attacking the front of the formation. Mengü beat a hasty withdrawal back to the north bank and decided to try and grind down Sabbiades' force from range. However, while he was pinned here, the rest of the Trapezuntine army rushed ahead, hoping to encircle them. Desperate to evade this trap, Mengü ordered his men to scatter, but it was too late. Trapped between the hills to their left and a canyon to their right, the Samtskheotes were unable to escape the closing trap. The lightly-armed, lightly-armored horsemen were utterly slaughtered, being cut down in droves by the far heavier-armored Ponts. After two hours, nearly the entire formation was dead, except for a handful who had managed to ride off into the hills or hide among the dead.

    The Battle of Sabbiades’ Ford effectively saw the end of a sovereign Samtskhe. The rest of the campaign season was spent hunting down the remaining Turko-Mongol bands in the region, after which preparations were made for the reintegration of the region into Kartvelia proper. Alexios, of course, grew paranoid and feared that Alek’sandre was prolonging the war in hopes of weakening the Trapezuntines, and so withdrew while there were several enemy forces left in the field. A double fort system was constructed across the breadth of the southern frontier, stretching along the Aras Cliffs and into the hills westward of that great natural embankment as far as the Vol’tik (Oltu River). From here, the new conquests were ceded to Trapezous, encompassing a broad range of dense, isolated hills that stretched to within a few scant miles north of Theodosiopolis. Alexios gave orders for the construction of a number of fortresses, both to secure those passages as well as the breadth of the Akampsis River, which was the only effective means of communication on the far side of the mountains. He left Sabbiades behind with twelve bandons to erect these fortresses before withdrawing back to Pontos proper. He awarded himself as triumph upon returning to the capital, no doubt hoping to emulate his father, but became uncomfortable partway through and fled the parade.

    The completion of the campaign in 1509 proved to be fortuitous timing, as just the following year, the Ottoman Empire would collapse into civil war. Trapezous would need all hands on deck to exploit this crisis, or maybe even to just survive it….

    [1] This was the historical Bagrat III
    [2] Alexios here took a leaf from his namesake and had David ostensibly blinded, in fact just shunting him off to Tmutarakan as an insurance policy in case Vakhtang tried to double cross him.
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    Part XXXII: The Death of Princes (1510-1514)
  • Eparkhos

    Alright, I got ahead of myself by more than a little bit. I'm going to put in this and another update on Trebizond's internal affairs before I jump back to the civil war. Sorry.

    Part XXXII: The Death of Princes (1510-1514)

    The court of Alexios V was a place ruled by fear. The aftokrator was a deeply paranoid man who leapt at shadows, both real and imagined. He was known for killing and mutilating anyone who slighted him[1]--once again, both real and imagined--and because of this, not a second went by when the formerly bright and colorful court of Alexandros II’s reign was not covered in a layer of shadow. As time drew on, Alexios’ rule became increasingly manic and draconian, as he feared conspiracies against him, seeded in all corners of the realm. Resentment began to build against him as he sent hundreds of innocent(ish) men and women to their deaths on baseless claims, or had them horrifically mutilated or exiled upon similar grounds. In time, this would spur the growth of just such a thing, and like Aesop’s eagle, Alexios would give his enemies the means of his own destruction….

    Anastasia Katsarina has been described by several contemporary historians as the ‘anti-Theodora’[2], a woman of lowly status, to say the least, who was catapulted into the highest halls of power but retained many of her previous attributes and character. This is doubtless true in many ways, but it was most openly expressed in how the aftokratorissa wielded--or, more accurately, clung to--power. After all, it was her network of connections and spies that had allowed her to make the leap from literal scheming whore to left hand of the aftokrator himself, and only a fool would not use this network to further their hold on power once they had seized it. Katsarina made a great show of giving over the entirety of her ‘organization’ to her husband, allowing him a level of access to the dark world of courtly access that few contemporary rulers possessed. Of course, she held some things in reserve, names of agents and informants struck from the rolls that Alexios knew of, hoards of coin and weapons concealed amongst the twisting passages that stretched beneath the Great Hill[3]. This network allowed her to exercise her power through both soft and hard means, once again in a manner unusual for the empress, and in some aspects she was more powerful than her husband, as her secret network allowed her a degree of secrecy and knowledgeable unavailable to those who worked through legal means.

    But this was a double-edged sword, as the increasingly paranoid nature of her husband meant these precautions made her a potential target were he to discover what she had been hiding from him. As shown in previous chapters, Alexios had always been twitchy, to say the least, and how much of this was legitimate and how much a carefully-maintained piece of political theater is unknown even to present researchers. However, the bouts of Justinian II-esque mental anguish only truly began in 1511. In that year, Katsarina detected a brewing plot against the emperor’s throne and his life. The madness and pettiness displayed during the intervention in Kartvelia had angered a sizable faction of the army, as several of the commanders which he had summarily executed were well-regarded by their men and all-around successful commanders. The nephew of one of these generals, one Gabriel Papadopoulos, had enlisted the help of several other officers to depose Alexios in a military coup and install Andreas Megalokomnenos, his first cousin, in his stead. Papadopoulos was smart enough to recognize that the eleutheroi would almost certainly be unswayed by any attempts to subvert them, and so he had directed his efforts at the regular forces garrisoning Trapezous, managing to form a force of eighty or so willing soldiers. Unfortunately for him and Andreas, one of these men happened to frequent a prostitute who reported to one of the aftokratorissa’s minions, and the rest is history. Alexios ordered the eleutheroi to storm the barracks of the disloyal soldiers, and in the process Papadopoulos and several others were killed. They were the lucky ones. Alexios had the other conspirators flayed alive and tried to do the same to Andreas, who managed to escape only by sheer luck; he was an insomniac, and happened to notice the eleutheroi mustering that night and decided it was time to leave. Andreas fled by ship to Constantinople, where he took up residence in the Sublime Porte.

    The discovery of Papadopoulos’ conspiracy shook Alexios to his core, validating his many paranoid fantasies in the form of a concrete threat from the army. Katsarina encouraged this, seeing an opportunity to remove a potential threat--she had never been able to worm her way as thoroughly into the army as she had into the court or the bureaucracy--and increase her own control over her husband at the same time. The papiai were further strengthened, becoming the 16th century equivalent of the secret police, charged with arresting and torturing anyone who even looked at Alexios funny. For a time, this was a rather effective method of securing his reign, as far as the aftokrator was concerned. The courtiers already hated him, he was sure of that, and so the only way to keep them in line was with fear. If an innocent bystander happened to be rubbered, it was no great loss--after all, no-one was innocent in court politics--and every potential enemy caught or killed was one less who could threaten him. Of course, this approach was self-defeating, as nearly every innocent (and many guilty) person who was killed had a family who would be ever so slightly upset that one of their relatives had been sent to the great beyond because of the emperor’s insane delusions. The Alexiac Problem, a dilemma common across most internal security forces, is named after him and the situation the aftokrator thrust himself into. Every revealed and executed conspirator or potential conspirator had relatives, and eventually one of these relatives would get pissed enough to start plotting against him, and eventually some of these would be discovered, which would cause another round of persecutions, which would just anger more people, and so on and so forth. Between 1511 and 1514, Alexios had more than three hundred courtiers, monks and bureaucrats executed and hundreds of others brutally mutilated--primarily having their arms or hands chopped off and blinded, but sometimes even worse--and sent into exile. Among these were many of his own cousins, both male and female. The smart members of the House of Komnenos and the House of Mgeli[4] ran after Andreas was forced into exile, most going to Morea, the Ottomans or the Qutlughids[5]. Alexios believed that all of this was necessary to secure his God-given throne, and that all of these punishments were carried out in accordance with the Holy Spirit’s will, who spoke to him regularly. This was probably a piece of political theater--probably. There were also a number of minor military revolts, as moirarkhs attempted to dethrone the aftokrator, but most of these went nowhere due to internal factionalism and the skill of the emperor’s assassins. The most troubling of these was the Revolt of 1513, which saw soldiers in the Lykos valley rise against the capital and briefly establish a breakaway state before they were driven out by loyalist soldiers and fled across the border to the Qutlughids. Alexios was crazy but he wasn’t stupid, and he knew that he needed the army on his side to stay in power. He paid his soldiers handsomely--especially the eleutheroi--using money gained from increased taxes on the nobility and tariffs imposed on Italian and Ottoman trade.

    Throughout this bloodbath, Katsarina retained most of her power, but she could not help but grow increasingly uneasy as her husband’s madness swelled. She too bore a healthy dose of paranoia, and began to fear that Alexios only retained her as aftokratorissa because of her influence of the court. As he was currently undertaking what was effectively a purging of the court, soon she would be useless to him and discarded, executed or sent off into exile. The butchering of the many courtiers had an outsized effect on her clients--after all, intriguers would be fingered by their rivals for disposal on behalf of the papiai, and they naturally hung around with shady crowds--and as the purges drew on she began to fear that her worst fears were coming true.

    The chain of events that saw the ultimate downfall of Alexios V began in the winter of 1513. The papiai had just arrested nearly two dozen plotters for treason against him, and most disturbingly a great number of them were clergymen, especially monks. Alexios began to fear that the church was conspiring against him, hoping to overthrow him in place of someone more pliant. He didn’t dare arrest the patriarch, Konstantinos II, directly, but he could still reduce the opportunity they had to undermine him. He had Romanos, his long-suffering brother, dragged out of his cell in Tmutarakan and executed, finally putting an end to the poor bastard’s suffering. The ramifications of this were immense; he had arrested and mutilated many of his cousin previously, but to execute your own brother required a level of true madness that went beyond any political theater. Katsarina was now sure that she must either strike first or be killed. The marriage between Alexios and Anastasia had been far from a happy one, for obvious reasons, but they had produced exactly one child, the young prince David, in 1508. Katsarina was sure the best way for her to stay in power was for Alexios to have an unfortunate accident so that she could rule as regent for David for however long it took for him to become mature enough to rule.

    The aftokratorissa began making plans as soon as possible. While the purges had wrecked her once magnificent network of spies and contacts, she still had a number of loyalists scattered across the court. Amongst these was one Alexios Francesco Skaramagos. Skaramagos was the son of Antonio Scaramanga, the last Genoese governor of Ghazaria, and while he had been born in Genoese territory he had rapidly Hellenized, becoming a minor player in the Trapezuntine court during the reign of Alexandros II. He was a notoriously skilled assassin, having been employed across the Near East as the 'Man with the Golden Crossbow' after the gold-tipped quarrels that he used on official jobs. He had been out of the country for most of the purges, and Katsarina had sheltered him from the rest with the expectation that he would do her bidding. As such, when she called upon him for some wetworks, Skaramagos was reluctantly willing to do so, even under...unusual circumstances.

    On the night of 28 May 1514, Skaramagos snuck up onto the roof of the rebuilt Church of Saint Eugenios, which lay across a broad chasm from the palace on the Great Hill. Lying silent in the morning mists, the assassin waited for more than six hours as the sun rose and the fog burned off. Alexios paced in his study, passing back and forth between a narrow gap in the palace’s masonry no more than an inch wide, a memory of the siege thirty years before. Skaramagos counted the seconds between each passing of the hole, the difference between two passings of the whole as the tyrant moved about oblivious. Then, with a short breath, he squeezed the trigger. The quarrel whistled across the gap, falling more than twenty feet from its trajectory before slotting through the tiny hole. Alexios V fell, mortally wounded by a shot to the stomach.

    However, he was not yet dead. Even as Skaramagos fled from his roost, the aftokrator cried out for his guards. He knew he was dying, that he had a day or two left at best before Death claimed him at last. He needed to make the best of what time he had left, for himself and for his dynasty. Alexios had long suspected that his wife was plotting against him--he was crazy, but he wasn’t stupid--but had been afraid to move against her given the potentially vast number of potential assassins that she could have in her employ. Now, however, he no longer had to fear the assassin’s blade. Katsarina had prepared for a failed assassination and was ready to play the part of the shocked and grieving widow or the appaled but caring wife in equal measure, but she had not prepared for Alexios’ sudden wrath. The emperor was unable to move, but had the papiai arrest his wife and drag her before him, so he could have her strangled in front of him. With Katsarina dead, he then turned the papiai and the eleutheroi loose on the unsuspecting Trapezuntines, hoping to purge any potential threats to his son in one last orgy of violence. No-one was safe; the patriarch was dragged out of the Hagia Sophia and beheaded, the eparkhos and his wife were killed in their beds; the heads of the city’s three chief merchant families were hacked down by the eleutheroi in the center of the market; the grand notary[6] was killed in a brothel; the grand domestic was trapped in a closet and burned alive. The few remaining prominent noblemen were all killed, effectively throwing any future court into anarchy with all of their leaders dead or blinded. As his soldiers were drenching the streets of the city in blood, Alexios sent for two men in particular to be brought before him. Basileios Mgeli, who had just returned from a diplomatic mission to the Qutlughids and so was caught completely flat-footed, and Basileios Davidopoulos, Alexios’ mentor, were marched into the palace, no doubt expecting to face their imminent demise. Instead, the aftokrator thanked them for their long and loyal service and asked them to stand as regents for his young son, alongside the captain of the eleutheroi, Basileios the Scythian[7]. They hurriedly agreed, and Alexios dispatched them to obtain all the relevant records and books on the legal manner of succession. Once they returned, Alexios had the eleutheroi muster outside the palace, recognize the men as co-regents, and abdicated in favor of his son. With a crossbow bolt still lodged in his sternum, the ex-emperor was then carried across the city to the Church of Saint Eugenios, where he retired into prayer. Early the next morning, he finally died after a day of agonizing pain, at the age of 37.

    There was a three-day interregnum, as the business of selecting a new patriarch was decided by the regents. Eventually, Davidopoulos was elevated as Patriarch Basileios III, and David was crowned as emperor on 1 June, at the young age of 6. Alexios’ paranoid reign and his final massacre had gutted the city of Trapezous and the empire of large of most of their competent officials and the bureaucrats who usually keep the state running, but it had also slain or driven out the fractious courtiers and noblemen who trouble most regencies. Ironically, one of the most tumultuous reigns in Trapezuntine history would be followed by one of its most peaceful regents, as the Three Basils would be free to reshape the kingdom to fit the upcoming monarch and the upcoming old empire….

    [1] This was the last period of widespread executions during this era of Trapezuntine history; under Alexios’ successors, the milder punishment of blinding would return to vogue.
    [2] Credit to @CastilloVerde for this description.
    [3] The palace and citadel of Trapezous were located south-east of OTL Trabzon, atop the Çukurçayır Hill.
    [4] By this point, the Mgeli were considered a cadet branch of the Megalokomnenoi, as Alexandros had formally adopted Basileios Mgeli and his other half-siblings as his children. It’s quite weird when phrased like that, but I assure you, it makes sense.
    [5] The problem posed to Trapezous by this should be obvious, but the diaspora of claimants to the surrounding realms of these rival states posed a serious threat, as this was essentially a casus belli served to them on a silver platter.
    [6] The grand notary is roughly equivalent to the grand secretary of previous eras.
    [7] Basileios the Scythian was not actually a Scythian but rather a Turkic of some sort, probably a Mongol, Turk or a Kipchak.
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    Part XXXIII: Musical Chairs (1514-1516)
  • Eparkhos

    "Alexander had spent all his life waiting in the shadows to become emperor. Thirteen months later, he was dead. What followed was a six-year game of musical chairs to establish who the new basileus would be. The shifting alliances and backroom deals which followed are Byzantine in their detail. They are a fine example of how that term gained its meaning.

    "So please, stand up. When the music starts, walk slowly in a circle to your left. When the music stops, well, you know what to do..."

    - Robin Pearson

    Part XXXIII: Musical Chairs (1514-1516)

    Alexios’ final purges had cleansed the Trapezuntine state of much of its more debauched and conspiratorial aspects. However, Trapezous was truly a Byzantine state, and no single man could completely cleanse the empire of its darker nature. The efforts of the late aftokrator had gone a long way towards securing the reign of his son, but the responsibility for maintaining this security would fall upon the shoulders of a priest, a diplomat and a slave, far from the most inspiring group of men to oversee a decade (at minimum) long regency. In a place as corrupt as the Trapezuntine Empire, they were hardly the best men for the job….

    As the dying emperor’s men ravaged the upper classes of the capital in search for any would-be assassins, the true killer of the emperor was in the wind. Skaramagos had correctly ascertained two things; namely, that Katsarina would double cross him at the first opportunity, and that Alexios might not be dead. He picked his way across the city, shot the guards outside the building where his brother was being held, and rescued him. Then they fled eastwards out of the city, making their way across the breadth of the empire to the eastern frontier. Ever the opportunist, Skaramagos saw a chance in all of this, and was unwilling to pass it up.

    Back in the capital, meanwhile, the Three Basils were shakily adapting to the levers of government. As previously mentioned, they were far from good candidates for the regency. Mgeli had spent the last decade and a half traveling across Central Europe, flitting between the courts of Rome, Esztergom and Krakow and even accompanying a Papal expedition led by Antonio Trivulzio against the Barbaries to recover a stricken Trapezuntine merchantman. He was a career diplomat, and while this was a trait that would be useful in pretty much any court throughout history, he had no experience in actually governing. He knew what not to do, of course, having observed many rulers in the Holy Roman Empire and beyond fall from grace and power due to blunders and bad slips, but this wasn’t much help. The Patriarch was even worse off, having spent most of his life as a quiet country priest before being shot up to royal tutor and advocate for the deranged prince-turned-emperor. The task of handling the fractious infighting of the Pontic Church and relations with the other surrounding Patriarchates would have probably been more than he could handle by itself, but having to do that and rule in David’s name was an overwhelming challenge for him. Basileios the Scythian was a career soldier, true[1], but he had little actual battlefield experience other than a few battles in the Samtskheote War half a decade previous and some battles with Karamanid raiders in the Lykos Valley. He was a thoroughly unimaginative commander, and swung between essentially ignoring the actions of the other regents and threatening to have his soldiers murder them anytime they did something that pissed him off. David was a non-entity at this point, unable to even say ‘David Megalokomnenos’, and so the three men were left to blunder their way forward, hoping that they did more good than they did harm.

    Alexios’ murder of anyone who looked at him funny had effectively gutted the ranks of the Imperial bureaucracy, aristocracy, and the upper echelons of the army with few exceptions. While this crippled the aforementioned organizations and thus posed a sizable challenge to the new regency, in the long-term it was a boon for the empire’s stability. All but the most tepid and inoffensive servants of the aftokrator had been purged, and this allowed the regents to refill their ranks with loyal and docile men, the kind who wouldn’t pose a threat to either the joint regency or the young David himself. The remainder of 1514 was spent analyzing potential recruits and hand-selecting new administrators and officers. Mgeli was the prime driver behind this, of course, as the Patriarch was already occupied with trying to reform the Pontic Church’s organizational structure and the Scythian was sacking officers left and right in a manner not dissimilar to Alexios’ old purges. While they were distracted in doing this, plotters began to come out of the woodwork, seeking the power that was wielded by a regent for themselves.

    Chief among these were Skaramagos and Ioannes Sabbiades who were, funnily enough, half-brothers. Antonio Scaramanga had been rebaptized in the Orthodox Church during the 1480s, and had sired a bastard son who went on to become the commander of the eastern frontier. Alexios, even during his most paranoid flights of fantasy, had never dared to execute a war hero as beloved to many of the commoners as Sabbiades was, and so he had remained as the governor of the eastern military frontier, fighting off Karamanid raids and attacks from the rump Samtskheote state. When his half-brother informed Sabbiades of the ongoing turmoil in the capital, the general saw an opportunity to gain power for himself. He was not a power-hungry man by nature, but having to spend years dreading the approach of every rider from the west had instilled in him a desire to be in complete control of his destiny, a desire which he believed could only be fulfilled by seizing the regency for himself. He had more than enough loyal soldiers to do it--after all, the eastern military frontier was the second-most heavily garrisoned region in the Empire, and most of the soldiers posted there supported him whole-heartedly. He and Skaramagos just needed the right opportunity to take power for themselves.

    Meanwhile, in the capital, the regency council began to fracture in mid-1515. Previously, Basileios Mgeli and Basileios the Scythian had, if not gotten along very well, at least tolerated each other. However, as Basileios III’s mind began to slip[2]--he was nearly eighty, after all--conflict began to brew between the two men. Mgeli, who had been the chief administrator of the regency simply due to lack of any other would-be clerical minister. As such, he assumed that he would step into the void left by Basileios III’s increasing incompetency. This, however, Basileios the Scythian would not allow. Conventional wisdom held that in order to secure oneself at the top of a Byzantinesque state such as Trapezous, you would need the support of two of the three pillars of the state[3]. With the initial arrangement of the regency, each of the Basileios had held one of these pillars; Mgeli the bureaucracy, Davidopoulos the church and Scythian the army. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be. However, now that Basileios was on the verge of bowing out, the potential for one of the men to gain the advantage was clear to him. Mgeli had not exactly tied to endear himself to him, either, encourage the growth of the city watch and the expansion of the city’s regular garrison as counterbalances to the eleutheroi.

    When Basileios III formally declared his retirement in August 1515, Basileios the Scythian sent a detachment of eleutheroi to arrest Basileios Mgeli, so that he could not prevent him from installing a claimant of his own upon the patriarchal throne. The regent was caught completely off-guard and was confined within his apartments within the palace with a few secretaries, unable to reach his network of supporters before he was effectively imprisoned. With his ally-turned-rival reduced, Basileios the Scythian appointed one of his colleagues, a military chaplain known as Thomas the Vainakh, as Patriarch, cinching another one of the pillars of state behind him, or so he thought.

    Mgeli knew that the ante was rising with every second, and he had to act quickly if he wanted to keep his head on top of his shoulders. He paid off a guard and slipped out a letter to his cousin up in Tennessee to Sabbiades, traveling through a secret network of couriers he had arranged on the side. He promised Sabbiades a seat on the regency council and command of all the realm’s armies if he would revolt against Basileios the Scythian, hoping that the two would fight each other and allow him to weasel his way out of his present predicament, or at least fire a Parthian shot. Basileios the Scythian, meanwhile, officially deposed Basileios Mgeli a few days later, elevating a fairly obscure notary named Konstantinos Ypsilantis to replace the former emperor’s cousin and join himself and Thomas the Avar as regents. Hoping to tie up a loose end, he had Mgeli paraded out of his cell and put on a ship to Tmutarakan in chains. The ship then sank a few hundred yards from shore with exactly one death. Thus died the last son of Keteon.

    While Mgeli himself was dead, his Parthian shot flew straight and true. In September 1515, Sabbiades received the late regent’s offer and, after ruminating on the subject for a time, decided the time was right. He raised the standard of revolt at Artane (OTL Ardahan)[4] on 26 September, and was hailed by his men as the true regent of the emperor David. There were already nearly 5,000 professional soldiers scattered across the section of the frontier under his control[5], and the bandons of the region rallied to his standard. With the harvest already completed, he was able to raise an unusually great number of men, mustering 12,000 men in his army proper even with 4,000 men left behind to guard the frontier from any opportunistic raiders. Sabbiades knew that the most likely strategy his enemies would take would be to keep him trapped on the far side of the mountains for as long as possible, in hopes that he would begin to waver and start to bleed to defections. As such, he drove directly across the mountains, floating down the Akampsis in a two-week long advance to the sea. Vatoume surrendered without a fight on 15 October, securing Sabbiades his foothold on the northern side of the mountains. He turned and swept along the coastal plains toward the capital itself, gathering more men as he marched. His success can be attributed to promises of relief from the rising taxes imposed by the capital and promises of the restoration of the glory of Alexandros II, whom Sabbiades had campaigned beneath on several occasions[6].

    Basileios the Scythian was, understandably, more than a little concerned by the vast rebel host that was currently marching towards the capital with all haste. He scrambled together a host, mustering 3,500 of the 5,000 eleutheroi[7] and marching out from the city mustering bandons from the lands surrounding the city. Most of these conscripts weren’t exactly eager to fight and die for the claim of some barbarian who had no distinguishing victories or endearing traits other than his money and his title, and fewer still were willing to do so against the war hero Sabbiades. As such, he was able to muster a host of 8,000, which was by now outnumbered by more than 2:1 and growing. Basileios decided his best option was to try and blunt Sabbiades’ advance and force him to endure a winter siege, which would hopefully affect the rebel army in a manner similar to Mustafa II’s thirty years before. However, this would never come to pass.

    After watching his predecessor be murdered on his orders, Konstantinos Ypsilantis had quickly deduced that Basileios could not be trusted. He had begun plotting against his nominal ally almost at once, managing to neatly insert himself into much of Mgeli’s network. Within a few weeks, he had managed to turn the regular garrison and the city watch to his side with a number of well-placed bribes. As soon as the bulk of the eleutheroi were a day’s march beyond the city, he ordered the city gates to be closed, then fled the palace for the army barracks in the upper town. Ypsilantis’ loyalist forces quickly coalesced, and within a few hours they and the city watch had managed to secure all of the lower and upper towns. A traitor opened one of the citadel’s sally gates, and he and his soldiers were able to fight their way through into the palace complex and the eleutheroi barracks there within. The battle here was fierce, as the narrow corridors and small, disjointed buildings reduced much of the fighting to one-on-one duels. The city watch and the regular garrison took heavy losses as the disciplined eleutheroi fought desperately, but weight of numbers was on their side and they eventually cut off and then took the Imperial chambers. Ypsilantis personally shepherded David out of the building, after which he turned the cannons on the citadel walls about and threatened to blow the palace to kingdom come if the eleutheroi didn’t lay down their weapons. Some kept fighting, but most of them reluctantly surrendered and were led away in chains. By the end of the day, all but the most isolated tunnels and chambers in the warren beneath the palace had been swept of their defenders. David, stuttering on every word due to an unfortunate speech impediment, proclaimed the deposition of Basileios the Scythian and Thomas the Avar (who had been imprisoned when the coup began) and elevated Ypsilantis to sole regent.

    Ypsilantis, I mean David, immediately drafted a chrysobull declaring that the Scythian was deposed. After hastily making and signing copies, riders were dispatched to distribute these messages amongst his camp. Sure enough, most of the bandons took this as an opportunity to abandon the field, rushing away to their homes and families. Basileios of course denounced the message as false and treasonous, but this did not prevent the eleutheroi from fracturing as several junior commanders attempted to arrest their captain as a rebel. While the eleutheroi were busy fighting themselves and the bandons fleeing in all directions, Sabbiades decided this was as good a time as any to attack, and his army surrounded and then overran the divided enemy camp. Basileios the Scythian was found barely alive and was tied to the back of a horse leg-first, dragged for several miles over sharp rocks on his face, then tied in a sack with a rabid dog and thrown down a well[8]. Sabbiades then resumed his march on the capital, arriving outside the city just as winter was setting in on 8 December 1515.

    Ypsilantis was essentially forced to let them in, as Sabbiades had a worryingly large siege train consisting of cannons captured at a supply depot at Kapnanion and several dozen more taken from cities along his marching route. Sabbiades entered the city in a triumphant march, being hailed as a liberator by many of the residents of Trapezous, a fact which only further unnerved Ypsilantis. However, the most worrying thing that happened that winter for the new regent was Sabbiades’ proclamation that he ought to be coregent, as he had been promised such a role by Mgeli before his untimely death. Ypsilantis obviously didn’t want to give up his power to a man who already wielded so much, but with a large army camped in the lower town, it wasn’t exactly like he could say no. On 14 December, Ioannes Sabbiades was raised to co-regent with Ypsilantis, returning the city and the empire to an uneasy power-sharing agreement. It would not last long.

    By the time he was elevated as regent, both Sabbiades and Ypsilantis were plotting to have the other bumped off. The reasons for this were rather obvious, as Ypsilantis feared that his nominal partner would try to overthrow him and Sabbiades feared that his nominal partner would try to have him killed. Unfortunately for them, neither of them was an especially skilled plotter, and so throughout December 1515 and into January 1516, they made a series of clumsy, badly-handled assassination attempts against each other. Be it poison, the assassin’s knife or barrels of power, they tried it. Skaramagos had disappeared somewhere into the Qutlughid Empire back in July, and so Sabbiades was left without his best assassin, which was no doubt extremely frustrating. By February, the two regents had holed up in opposite wings of the palace and refused to speak to each other. Why Sabbiades didn’t just outright depose Ypsilantis at the first opportunity is unknown--it is possible that the regent, with nothing left to lose, might try and repeat Mgeli’s little stunt and plunge the country into civil war--but it would prove to be a fatal mistake.

    On 23 February 1516, Sabbiades finally threw up his hands and said ‘Screw it’. That morning, several dozen of his soldiers burst into Ypsilantis’ wing of the palace, hacking down the regent’s guards and rushing into his personal rooms. They pulled the man they found sleeping there from his bed and realized, to their shock, that it was not in fact him. Ypsilantis had started sleeping in an adjoining closet out of fear of being killed in his sleep, and while the soldiers had been busy he had fled into the tunnels beneath the palace. Furious that his quarry had been lost, Sabbiades ordered his men to spread out through the tunnels and hunt him down. For two days they searched, finding nothing, as Ypsilantis fled between different store rooms and hidden tunnels. Finally, on the third day, he presented himself before a group of soldiers and demanded to be taken to Sabbiades. The general had his former co-regent brought before him, taunting him before he had him executed. However, Ypsilantis retorted in kind, mocking him for his clubfoot and weak leg. Sabbiades flew into a rage and began screaming at him, causing the soldiers holding him to shrink back. Seizing the opportunity, Ypsilantis pulled a concealed dagger--from where is not known, but given that the wound later became severely infected, many historians have a guess--and stabbed Sabbiades in the arm, missing his chest by a few millimeters. Absolutely apoplectic now, Sabbiades grabbed Ypsilantis and threw him out of nearby window, sending him hurtling seven hundred feet to the bottom of the Kontos Valley.

    Sabbiades was proclaimed as David’s regent later that same day, but he would not have long to enjoy it. He refused treatment for his wound until he had been formally invested, not wanting to waste time getting it cleaned. He allowed it to be treated afterwards, but it was too late. It was already infected, and within a few days the infection worsened into severe blood poisoning. By 27 February, he was in agonizing pain and took so much opium that he couldn’t move from his bed. A day later he was dead, and David was left without a regent once again.

    By now, the people of Trapezous were thoroughly fed up with the regent roulette, and the garrison and the bureaucrats agreed. After a bit of deliberation, the city garrison invited the megas doux, the highest-ranking officer who had stayed clear of this mess, to take the regency. Loukas Ratetas[10] had worked his way up to the admiralty from a lowly rower on an Imperial galley, and was well-respected by all because of his honesty, loyalty and genial nature. He had actually been raised to his office in 1511 because he was the only captain who Alexios had trusted, and he had been sufficiently inoffensive to survive the following years. He was at Kerasounta, overseeing the loading of new cannons onto his galleys, when Sabbiades died. After a brief caretaker regency by Patriarch Nikolaos (Thomas had been deposed by Ypsilantis), Ratetas arrived in the city on 12 March and formally accepted the regency, becoming David’s seventh and final regent.

    [1] Although this wasn’t exactly a willing decision since he was, y’know, a slave.
    [2] Basileios III likely had an early form of dementia as early as Nikephoros’ reign, but it truly became impactful during his regency.
    [3] That is, the army, the bureaucracy and the church. Huh, A-B-C. The ABCs of Byzantium, perhaps?
    [4] This was the capital of the eastern frontier, the largest settlement conquered from the Samtskheotes
    [5] The size of the Trapezuntine military had ballooned during the long peace between 1486 and 1517. Note: This span is referred to as the long peace due to the lack of major foreign wars, the war between Basileios the Scythian and Sabbiades being the only major civil conflict and the Samtskheote War being the only foreign conflict, which didn’t inflict much damage on the Empire itself.
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