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Part XXXIV: A New Osman (1488 - 1510)
  • Eparkhos

    Part XXXIV: A New Osman (1488 - 1510)

    The Ottoman Empire had been birthed from the chaos that had reigned over Anatolia after the collapse of the Sultanate of Rûm. The old balance of power between settled Greeks and settled Salchouqs[1] had been upset by the sudden introduction of thousands of Turkmen warriors straight from the steppe. This period had seen the center of power in Anatolia shift from the Salchouq cities of the east to the western frontier, where the decaying Byzantine Empire’s[2] Anatolian territories were overrun by the fierce men from the steppe. Dozens of small ghazi statelets had cropped up, all with the express intention of plundering the Byzantines--all in the name of God, of course. The Germiyanids and the Aydinids had been the early forerunners, but a combination of skill and luck[3] had catapulted Osman and his followers to emerge from this period as the chief hegemon of western Anatolia. The government system which Osman and Orhan had established--a mixture of Turkmen warriors and slave soldiers as the military arm and a Byzantine-derived tax system to finance the state and its expansion--had supported the rise of the Ottoman Empire to control vast swathes of Rumelia and Anatolia. However, the Empire’s defeat and following decline in the 1460s had led many to question whether this system needed to be changed.

    The failure of Mehmed II to prevent defeat in the War of the First Holy League and the subsequent collapse of Ottoman control of Anatolia led directly to the sultan's fatal ‘accident’ in 1466. He was succeeded by his young son, Mustafa II, but true power lay in the hands of Mahmud Angelović Paşa, his regent and later grand vizier, as well the man who was commonly suspected to have played a part in Mehmed’s death.

    The realm that Angelović Paşa presided over was vastly different from the one which Mehmed had inherited. The frontier provinces of Serbia, Albania, and much of mainland Greece had been lost to the Latins. The Danubian vassals had both broken free from the Sublime Porte and now paid homage to the Hungarians, meaning that recovering them would be nigh-on impossible. Anatolia, formerly the heartland of the Ottoman domain, had been almost completely overrun by the Karamanids, depriving the Sublime Porte of its formerly numerous Turkmen horsemen. He was also facing down a brewing economic crisis, as most of their tributaries were no longer paying their dues and much of their European tax-collecting infrastructure had been lost during the war. The regent/vizier found before him a difficult task, but he would rise to the occasion. Angelović aspired to reform the upper echelons of the Ottoman state into a vessel for his own personal control, and he would use every opportunity presented to him to do so.

    Angelović Paşa’s first step was to reform the tax system. At the time, the Ottomans were dependent upon the iltizām tax system, under which tax contracts would be auctioned off to various independent contractors, who would then collect their assigned taxes as well as extorting a great deal more for their own gain. This kind of tax system had been common throughout history, but it was both dreadfully inefficient and utterly hated by just about everyone. As such, in 1469 the grand vizier declared an official end to the iltizām system, instead promulgating the kentrosadiq[4] system. Under the new system, taxes would be collected by civil servants in a strictly organized system of surveyed plots, tax exemptions and surcharges depending on which villayet they were operating in. Those caught skimming off profits would sold into slavery to work in the mines of the Balkan Mountains, for which ‘hellish’ is an understatement. This reform saw the amount of tax collected by the state increase slightly but the number of extorted peasants fall dramatically. This made both Angelović Paşa and the Ottomans at large much more popular amongst their sedentary subjects, and after this the number of tax revolts, which had been a recurring problem for the last few years, fall dramatically.

    Next, he turned his attention to the court and the bureaucracy. The vast majority of the bureaucracy were supporters of the House of Osman, and thus could be used against him by Mustafa if the two had a falling out. He also wished to do away with his domestic rivals, chief among them Rûm Mehmed Paşa, the chief supply officer of the fleet. Paşa fabricated a mass conspiracy against Mustafa in 1471, listing dozens of civil servants and potential rivals in both the bureaucracy and the court, and was able to convince the sultan that all of these venerable figures were plotting to kill him. When the young sultan flew into a panic because of this, he quickly gave the Paşa permission to root out this and any other plot against him. Over the following weeks, more than three hundred people were strangled and hundreds of others sent into exile, effectively stripping the court of any potential rival, as well as any family member of a potential rival who may have been driven to oppose him due to the purge, as well as any relatives of those. He also revived the papiai, the secret police of the Kantakouzenoi, promising to give the sultan knowledge of anything that they uncovered. Instead, he used it to further cement his control over the Sublime Porte, having any potential enemies murdered before they could become a threat. He also overhauled the bureaucracy, turning it into a straight-out meritocracy with little opportunity for the traditional aristocracy (in this case, timariots and sipahis) to interject traditional candidates. He removed the requirement to be a Muslim from all but the highest level of power, and from 1486 on he encouraged the use of both Greek and Persian[5] as the languages of administration.

    He also attempted to modify the army’s structure to both improve its fighting abilities and its loyalty to him. He allowed the existing officer corps to persist but altered its recruiting program, opening up opportunities for soldiers to rise through the ranks. This, along with the various other meritocratic programs enacted during Angelović Paşa’s tenure as regent/grand vizer, had the double effect of increasing the ability of those holding positions of power as well as allowing Angelović to get his claws into them early, singling out good prospects to improve his relations with and either warp them into devout loyalists or have them exiled to the Danubian frontier[6] and/or killed off. The recruitment of the army remained roughly the same, although the use of the devşirme[7] was dialed back and re-phrased as the ‘Potential Officer Recruitment Program’, or ‘Çalviafsarone’, a far more diplomatic term. Locals in the Asiatic provinces were allowed to form militias to defend from Karaman aggression, but their European counterparts were not allowed to do so for fear of siding with any potential invaders. This pool of recruits could be used to expedite the mustering of armies, which further helped Ottoman prospects. Finally, a range of forts were constructed across all of their frontiers, to cut down on losses to foreign raiders and slow any enemy invasion, be it from their co-religionists or the Latin knights from the west.

    Angelović also pursued a fairly aggressive foreign policy, seeking to return his, I mean, his charge’s empire to its former heights. Most prominent amongst these efforts was Notaras’ War, which began after a botched attempt to seize formerly Genoese possessions in the Aegean. Following the victory of the Sublime Porte in this conflict, a number of islands in the aforementioned sea were annexed into the Ottoman realm, the islanders being given a number of privileges--most notably exemption from the jizya tax and the çalviafsaroni and permission to raise militias to defend against pirates--to keep them loyal and try to wean the subjects of other islanders away from their Italian overlords. As previously mentioned, Thessalia was reduced to a vassal, as were the Çandarids before they were fallen upon and driven east over the mountains to exile in Syria in the 1480s. He also campaigned heavily against the Albanians, who were divided between various warring clans and tribes. Before his death, the highlanders were driven out of much of the eastern country or reduced to subjects, with the independent Albanians being driven to the far western mountains, where they would be perpetually vulnerable and a workable buffer state with the Venetians. He also attempted to reduce the Trapezuntines to vassals and actually succeeded in doing so, but their tribute was limited to the annual payment of a single ducat to Constantinople. Nonetheless, he was able to use this as an opportunity to increase his and Mehmed III’s prestige, by forcing, the Trapezuntine embassy to persuade through the streets of the city to a booing crowd in a scene similar to a Roman triumph, pay homage to the sultan in person and kiss his feet[8], then place the single ducat on a pillow, which would then be given to the grand vizier, who would then hand it to the sultan.

    Most notably, he also encouraged the advancement of Greeks, be they Orthodox or Muslim, through all ranks of society. The majority of territories controlled by the Sublime Porte after the disastrous 1460s were Greek-speaking, across mainland Greece, the islands, Thrake[9] and Anatolia. There were sizable Turkish (a mixture of Turkmen and Salchouqs) and Bulgarian populations, but these were both smaller. The Bulgarians in particular had next to no political power, as their nobility had been utterly slaughtered and their land parceled out between timariots. Angelović Paşa framed this to Mustafa and Mehmed as a way to shore up Ottoman rule, and while this was true it also helped him build up power for himself. However, as power is and was a zero-sum game, this made many of the Turkish nobility unhappy, a phenomenon which would rear its head some time later. In the short term, however, this program led to increased support for the Ottomans in its Greek provinces and an increased percentage of Greeks in the sultan’s bureaucracy and court. He also made constant efforts to improve relations between the Sublime Porte and the Orthodox church. The millet system, an idea which Mehmed had begun to develop but had been unable to institute before his untimely and completely accidental death, was instituted in 1472. The Ecumenical Patriarch was given control over all churches in the Ottoman Empire excepting a few Latin churches which were allowed to exist as bargaining chips for the Italians. In matters of personal and family law, the Orthodox were allowed to self-govern. Many of the monasteries maintained their old Byzantine tax exemptions, but many others had them revoked. He also encouraged the Ecumenical Patriarch to try and subvert the Pontic Patriarchy with the pretext of Trapezous’ vassaldom, but this ultimately went nowhere because of factional infighting and a general opposition amongst the churchmen to taking orders from the infidels. As a whole, however, this period saw the Ottomans and the Orthodox Church become further interwoven, the latter being given a number of incentives to remain loyal to the further. Among these steps was an outlawing of the enslavement of Greek Orthodox in 1480, although this had little impact due to the increasing number of slaves taken from Circassia and bought from the Barbaries.

    In spite of these great reforms, Mahmud Angelović Paşa was a man just like any other. In 1490, the great statesman died at the ripe old age of seventy, after nearly a quarter of a century at the top. He left Mehmed III, merely eight years old, as sultant. To take his place as regent and vizier, he appointed one of his most promising apprentices, a Greek Muslim named Ebülhayr Paşa. Ebülhayr Paşa continued the policies of his master throughout the entirety of his tenure as grand vizier, leading campaigns against Albania and Epirus throughout the 1490s in the name of the sultan and continuing the advancement of Greeks in the government. The tensions which had begun to foment during the latter half of Angelović Paşa’s reign continued to simmer just beneath the surface, as the newly-advanced Greeks clashed with the traditional Turkish aristocracy. Ebülhayr Paşa was able to keep a lid on things by siccing the papiai on anyone who looked at him funny, up to and including his own nephew in 1503.

    However, this would come back to bite him, as Mehmed began to view his own regent with increasing distrust and fear. After all, it was an open secret that Angelović Paşa had his father strangled for disappointing him at the Siege of Trapezous, and who could say that Ebülhayr Paşa wouldn’t do the same to him? As he grew older and the chances of producing a male heir became higher, the possibility that Ebülhayr Paşa would have him killed to extend his own reign became more and more prominent in his mind. However, he knew that nothing would get him bumped off more quickly than a botched coup, and so throughout the 1510s he plotted, quietly but purposefully. Ebülhayr Paşa had him under constant surveillance due to his paranoid nature, and he was able to meet with his loyalists only by going on long hunting trips to the wilds around Adrianople. He knew that the bureaucrats would be loyal to their master, and so they couldn’t be trusted. Neither could the Greeks, as they would be most likely to turn on him, as the historical record showed that Greeks weren’t exactly the most trustworthy people[10]. As such, he made contact with the traditional Turkish aristocracy. The two of them had a shared interest, after all; he wanted to regain the power that his grandfather would have had, and they wanted to recover their traditional rights and privileges. As he spent more time with his confederates, the sultan gradually became convinced that the only way to save the Ottoman Empire was to undo all of the reforms enacted by Angelović Paşa. The timarotes, hotbeds of Turkish settlement, were scattered across eastern and southern Anatolia, especially in territories recently recovered from the Karamans and in Bulgaria, whereas the Bulgarians had been broken nearly completely and were thus open for settlement.

    Unfortunately for Mehmed, Ebülhayr Paşa’s paranoid regime meant that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to stage a palace coup without being assassinated. However, the army was still mostly Turkish, so he had far better chances of unseating the grand vizier by force of arms. He couldn’t just march an army into the capital, though, as there would still be enough time for the vizier to have him bumped off. By 1508, he had concluded that the best way for him to reclaim his birthright would be to flee to the provinces and raise a revolt against the capital regime. As such, over the next two years, he convinced Ebülhayr Paşa to undertake a buildup along the Danubian border. A succession crisis was brewing in Hungary, and he framed this as an opportunity to recover the Danubian principalities. Instead, he was marshalling forces under generals loyal to him. Finally, on 12 February 1510, he and a few loyalists slipped out of the capital and rode north, braving the winter weather to reach the frontier. A week later, upon arriving in Tarnovo, he and his generals declared the government in Constantinople illegitimate. The Second Ottoman Civil War had begun….

    [1] Recall, these are the partially hellenified Turks who migrated into the region in the 11th century and partially adopted the customs of the region in which they had settled, while retaining their Islamic faith and many other Turkish cultural aspects.
    [2] I’m using this term here for simplicity’s sake, as well as the term ‘Greek’. I’m sure some of my readers are REE-ing at me right now, but I’m doing this for greater accessibility.
    [3] Most notable amongst these windfalls was becoming the leader of a Sufi sect and inheriting the remnants of Alexios Philanthropenos’ auxiliary corp after his imprisonment in the 1290s.
    [4] This is notable as being one of the first times that the Ottomans would use Greek in an official promulgation and, furthermore, as the name of an institution.
    [5] The Ottomans used Old Anatolian Turkish as one of their languages of governance, which derived upwards of 90% of its vocabulary and syntax from contemporary, i.e. Middle Persian.
    [6] The Wallachians and Moldovans were fiercely opposed to the Ottomans as well as having a vested interest in being able to tax the greatly expanded Danube river trade to their greatest ability. As such, they made frequent raids against forts on the river bank, often massacring or enslaving any garrison members. The Wallachians in particular had preserved the practice of impalement, finding that Turkish punitive expeditions usually lost heart after having to push through a forest of their own dead along the river bank, which in some places was nearly a mile wide.
    [7] This translates as either ‘blood tax’ or ‘child levy’, neither of which are exactly inviting names.
    [8] Having to kiss the Pope was one of the Catholic doctrines which most infuriated the Orthodox, making it into several compilations of ‘The Errors of the Latins’. As such, being forced to do it to the Sultan, who wasn’t even a Christian, was extremely insulting to the Trapezuntines as well as the other Orthodox states who were forced to give submission in such a way.
    [9] Thrake extended all the way up to the Balkan Mountains, encompassing the southern half of OTL Bulgaria. Before the 1800s, the region was a fair mixture of Bulgarians and Greeks, but the Greek War of Independence led many of the Thrakian Greeks to adopt Bulgarian customs or leave for greener pastures.
    [10] ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts’. The Turks at large had a very low opinion of the Greeks, viewing them as cowards who were unable to defend themselves from the ghazis or insolent for refusing to convert and frequently revolting.
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    Part XXXV: The Two Houses (1512-1514)
  • Eparkhos

    Part XXXV: The Two Houses (1512-1514)

    The Second Ottoman Civil War marks the beginning of the Crisis of the 16th Century, the opening of a century-long period of war, destruction and change that swept over Europe and the Near East. It would be a fitting start, unleashing a nearly decade-long period of civil war that would see the death of nearly a million people and the displacement of many more. The conflict would be earth-shaking, throwing the Eastern Mediterranean into a period of chaos and confusion that would define it in the years following. The House of Osmanli and the Ottoman Empire itself would both be radically changed by the fallout from this brewing storm….

    The division of the Ottoman Empire between the supporters of Mehmed and those of Ebülhayr Paşa came down mostly along ethnic lines, as previously mentioned. There was also a great deal of religious conflict inherently implicit within the war. The Orthodox and Catholics could be fairly certain that the liberalizing reforms[1] that had been undertaken by the Paşa would continue in the event of his victory. The Jews[2] and Muslims, on the other hand, were doing quite well beneath the existing system and feared having their advanced status being revoked by the reformist regime. The grand vizier had the backing of most of, if not all, Greek-majority lands, while the sultan was supported by the older Turkish aristocracy, especially the recently-settled groups in Bulgaria and the heavily militarized regions of the western Balkans which had only recently been wrested from Albanian and Epirotes control. Mehmed had an edge in terms of standing forces, as most of the frontier zones, in which resided the majority of the army, had gone over to him. However, he lacked the infrastructure necessary to keep such large armies in the field for consecutive campaigns, and had limited manpower reserves to replenish his losses from. Ebülhayr Paşa, on the other hand, had smaller forces, but a much larger manpower pool, as he controlled the heavily-populated Ottoman heartland. He also had control of most of the tax infrastructure, which was a great boon to his cause, and most of Ottoman navy. The primarily Ottoman naval centers were Constantinople, Thessalonike and Smyrne, all of which had remained under his control. Mehmed, in contrast, only had the small force of corsairs stationed at Sarandoz (Sarandë), the sole Ottoman port on the Ionian Sea.

    The geographic nature of the Ottoman Empire was also of great importance during this internecine conflict, as it is in all wars of this nature. The eastern half of the Balkan Peninsula was a land of rolling hills and plains punctuated by the severe Balkan Mountains and the Rhodopes, while the western half was a mess of tiny valleys and sharp mountains that made movement very difficult. In Anatolia, meanwhile, the landscape was dominated by plains, valleys and the occasional mountain ranges along the coast, all of which faded into dry pseudo-steppe across the mountains in the interior of the region. These geographical barriers posed a major problem to strategic maneuvers by sectioning off the Ottoman Empire into its component regions. Because of this, Mehmed’s position was stronger than it would have appeared on paper. His forces controlled the Bulgarian plain and much of the Balkan Mountains, were supported by garrisons scattered across the western frontier, and had the backing of the horsemen on the far side of the Bithynian mountains, attacking any of which would force an enemy forces to fight through a set series of narrow passes, which is just screams ‘Ambush!’. However, this was a double-edged sword, as by using the mountains to secure his areas of control, the sultan was effectively yielding control of the areas beyond the mountains, as Ebülhayr Paşa could mobilize forces to put down any assembling forces with far more haste than he could send an army to reinforce them. This was not lost on Ebülhayr Paşa, who immediately set about making his own preparations to use the mountains. Just as they protected the sultan’s forces, they could also be used to corner them, pin them down and keep them from helping their comrades in other regions.

    The civil war got off to a slow start, both men not wanting to cause unnecessary damage to ‘their’ empire, and hoping to avoid the involvement of foreign powers which is inevitable in domestic conflicts fought on such a large scale. Couriers flew back and forth between Tarnovo and Constantinople, but in spite of their breakneck interchange there was little agreement to be had. Mehmed demanded that Ebülhayr Paşa step down entirely and recognize him as legitimate sultan, which went about as well as you think it would, while Ebülhayr Paşa (through his puppet, Orkhan II[3]) demanded that Mehmed step down entirely and recognize his brother as the legitimate sultan, which also went about as well as you think it would. Of course, neither of them truly cared if negotiations went nowhere; it was merely a way to stall for time. Between March and August 1512, Ebülhayr Paşa raised an army of 30,000, a mixture of militia, quickly-trained volunteers, and veterans called out of retirement, supplemented with several thousand mercenaries from Italy. Mehmed, meanwhile, mobilized 35,000 men in Europe--mostly ethnically Turkish soldiers and veterans, with a small number of Bulgarian or Greek conscripts to be used as human shields--and 15,000 in Anatolia, the latter host being made up almost entirely of Turkmen and commanded by one Malkoçoğlu Bali Bey, the governor of the Anatolian Vilayet. The last negotiations ceased on 16 July, when Mehmed ordered Ebülhayr Paşa’s emissaries executed as traitors. The war would now begin in earnest.

    Mehmed struck directly for Constantinople. Ebülhayr Paşa had deliberately fed him misinformation (he had far better knowledge of the sultan’s spy network than Mehmed thought he did) about him and his army departing for Anatolia to fight the numerically inferior Mehmedist forces there. Because of this, Mehmed believed that Thrake would be devoid of defenders and saw an easy opportunity to break the back of the enemy with little opposition. As such, except for some outriders, he did little to scout ahead of him and expected to reach the capital without anything more than a few skirmishes. As such, he was surprised when his scouts reported the presence of a large army at Edirne. Ebülhayr Paşa had chosen to ignore the ongoing struggle in Anatolia in favor of meeting Mehmed in Europe and repulsing him from the capital. There were nearly 20,000 Paşist soldiers camped around Edirne, in opposition to the 25,000 soldiers Mehmed had in his van.

    The sultan was far from an experienced soldier (as evidenced by his blunder in terms of scouting) but he was not a complete idiot and had a basic understanding of strategy and tactics. It appeared that Ebülhayr Paşa had arrayed all of his forces along the Tunca River, which flowed into Edirne from the north, no doubt hoping to force Mehmed into a bloody forced crossing. Mehmed in turn appeared to accept this gambit, lining up on the opposite bank of the river on the night of 3 August. In fact, he had sent 5,000 horsemen and light infantry across the Ebros to circle around and attack the Paşists in the rear the following day, when battle was joined. Presuming that this detachment was proceeding on schedule, Mehmed assaulted the Paşa’s forces, advancing across the broad, slow-moving river to attack the other bank. For several hours, the two forces met in bitter hand-to-hand combat, the air filled with screams and shouts and the smell of blood and death. The Turkish infantry threw themselves at their Greek counterparts, both equally well-armed and armored. Neither made much progress, any advance being quickly beaten down and ford by the surrounding ranks. Mehmed began to wonder where his flanking force had gone, about the same time that Ebülhayr Paşa was doing likewise. Both commanders had sent flanking forces across the Ebros, and by sheer dumb luck they had blundered into each other. After an hour of fighting, the more lightly-armed Mehmedists were forced to retire, the Paşists pursuing all the way. However, the Mehmedists were able to stage enough of a rearguard on the Ebros for Mehmed to rush reinforcements to prevent an encirclement. Then, the sultan ordered his forces to pull back across the Tunca.

    After several days of light skirmishing, Mehmed broke camp once again and withdrew northwards to the mountains, pursued by Ebülhayr Paşa. The two forces’ outriders fought a running battle as the rearguard and the vanguard struggled to perform their respective tasks. By September, however, Mehmed was able to withdraw across the mountains, defeating an attempt to pursue him at Shipka Pass. Ebülhayr Paşa made camp in Upper Thrake, not wanting to risk getting trapped in the mountains during the winter, while Mehmed holed up at Tarnovo. Neither army had taken especially heavy losses, but the Paşists were better able to replenish what losses they had taken and furthermore raise more men.

    The fighting resumed in the spring of 1513. Mehmed made another thrust into Thrake, launching an unexpected assault in the east after a false build-up in the west. Ebülhayr Paşa rushed to cut him off, inadvertently allowing the western army, which was not as fake as had been expected, to break out of the mountains. The vizier appeared to be on the verge of being pincered, and was forced to retreat down the valley to keep his army intact. However, his force, while outnumbered on a theater-wide basis, was larger than either of the sultan’s armies. In to win, he rolled the dice. Rather than trying to meet either of these armies, Ebülhayr Paşa instead led his army north-east across the coastal foothills of the Balkan Mountains, threatening an offensive into Bulgaria itself. Mehmed, hoping to prevent this, turned his personal force about and marched to pursue, leaving the second force to lay siege to Edirne.

    The sultan and the vizier chased each other around the eastern edge of the Bulgarian plain for the next three months, never quite able to gain the advantage that they felt would secure them a decisive victory. That was, until mid-July, when Ebülhayr Paşa’s force had the misfortune of encountering a Wallachian raiding force in Dobruja[4]. The resulting battle was shockingly bloody, but the worst casualty were the cannons, which were captured and spiked before the Vlachs were driven off. With his field artillery gone, the vizier moved eastwards, hoping to hole up in a port so he could either evacuate or resupply. Unfortunately for him, this battle was observed by some of Mehmed’s outriders, and within hours he was marching to intercept.

    The two forces met each other near the village of Sredina, about seventy kilometers north of Varna, beneath dark and ominous clouds. Ebülhayr Paşa had barely managed to scramble across the valley of a small, nameless river, and his forces formed up on its southern side, forcing any attackers to climb out of the gorge and into their waiting pikes and arquebuses. This was a sound plan, and it seemed to be working as the first wave of Mehmed’s men to come charging up the slope were cut down en masse. Another line charged up the gorge and fell with the bark of muskets and the sound of metal tearing flesh. To Ebülhayr Paşa, it appeared as if his enemy had lost his mind and any knowledge of tactics. However, what he failed to account for was the superiority in numbers and quality of the Mehmedist cavalry. Even as waves of men charged to their deaths (most of whom were Greek and Bulgarian conscripts) several thousand horsemen were thundering towards his flank. Mehmed’s foolishness, as Ebülhayr Paşa believed the cause of the continued assault to be, quickly proved not to be entirely foolish as the cavalry emerged from a stand of trees on the Paşist left. The vizier hurriedly ordered his flank to about-face to meet the new threat, but as the cavalry entered the field Mehmed ordered his actual trained infantry to advance. The simultaneous slam of the cavalry into the chaotic left and the charge of the veterans into the Paşist center broke Ebülhayr’s force. The vizier was left to fight a desperate rearguard as his army streamed away behind him, and it was only by good luck that the clouds opened up, releasing a deluge that allowed the Paşists to retreat under cover. Ebülhayr Paşa quickly regrouped his forces and fled south-eastwards, barely managing to make it to the small but defensible port of Kavarna.

    While Ebülhayr Paşa waited for evacuation by the Ottoman Navy, Mehmed quickly turned his attention to resuming the offensive in Thrake. Leaving behind a force large enough to keep the grand vizier treed, he and the majority of his army rushed southwards once again. Edirne was taken once word of the disaster got there, and with the second city of the Empire in his hands, Mehmed ranged across Thrake, taking several major cities and quickly solidifying his control over the region by force of arms. Given the extreme anti-Hellenism and anti-Orthodoxy (heterodoxy? Nah, sounds weird) of his army, several thousand Greeks were massacred, many more sold off into slavery with their homes and villages burned to the ground. This was a thoroughly unpleasant experience, as you might imagine, and so as Mehmed and his armies advanced towards Constantinople, they met increasing resistance, both from disperate Greek militias and smaller contingents of official soldiers using hit-and-run tactics. Mehmed mostly shrugged these off, but this complacency was halted in mid-September, when his army arrived at Selymbria. He was shocked to meet Ebülhayr Paşa, at the command of some 15,000 men. Ebülhayr Paşa and his army had been hastily evacuated from Kavarna and relanded in the capital, where he had rallied many of the Greek militias to his banner, as well as transporting the garrisons of Bithynia across the Bosphorus to join his army.

    This serves as an excellent segway back to the Trapezuntine Empire and its interests. Regardless of the events playing out in Europe, it would be the years of massacre, enslavements and all around brutality that befell the undefended Anatolian Greek population that would stir the Trapezuntines to intervene in the civil war in mid-1516….

    [1] This term is a definite anachronism, but it gets the point across well enough.
    [2] The Spanish Jews were resettled in the Ottoman Empire as in OTL, but this time the position of Thessalonike only a few scant miles from the Thessalian border kept its native population in place, as Angelovic Pasa didn’t want to risk putting an ethnic group of questionable loyalty so close to such a volatile frontier district.
    [3] ‘Orkhan’ is a transliteration of اورخان غازی that I feel is more accurate than the usual ‘Orhan’.
    [4] The Danubian Principalities remain under Hungarian hegemony, and the current voivode sees the ongoing Ottoman civil war as a chance to get revenge for all of the Turkish raiding and hopefully put the fear of God into the Turks so raiding will reduce in severity and frequency.
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    Part XXXVI: Martyrs (1514-1516)
  • Eparkhos

    Part XXXVI: Martyrs (1514-1516)

    The Greeks of Anatolia had spent the past two centuries or more languishing beneath the Ottoman yoke, left behind after their brethren fled across the Bosphorus in hopes of escaping the ever-expanding Turkish empire. As the Byzantines departed the region, the Turkmen moved in in their wake, subjecting the Orthodox to all sorts of humiliations and depredations. For two score decades, the poor farmers and artisans had managed to eke out a living despite their oppressive circumstances, allowed to just barely skate through by the Sublime Porte, who by now saw them solely as tax cows and recruiting grounds for the janissaries. As Imperial governance in the region began to collapse as the civil war spiralled out, however, things only became worse. Bands of roving marauders and ghazis came down from the interior mountains, ravaging the countryside and butchering Greeks for the crime of mere existence. Across north-western Anatolia, entire villages were sacked or burned, their inhabitants massacred or carried off into the chains of slavery. Churches were levelled, bloated corpses piled atop their foundations to further defile the spot, and priests and monks tortured to death[1]. As hundreds were killed and thousands more sold into slavery, there was but one option left to the Greeks of Bithynia and Paphlagonia; Revolt or die.

    The lives of the Anatolian Greeks under Ottoman rule had never been especially pleasant, but it had always been at least tolerable. They were treated as conquered subjects by the Sublime Porte, not an unusually cruel fate given the time period, and were lesser than their Muslim brethren in nearly all aspects of society. Greeks were forbidden to build their houses taller than those of their Muslim neighbors, their churches had to be smaller than every mosque in whichever city or town they resided in. They paid extra taxes, both the jizya and the çalviafsarone, the latter of which saw many of their sons taken away as slaves to join the armies of the sultan and the vizier. They were forbidden to carry weapons or potential weapons of any sort, ranging from arquebuses to certain types of cookware, and the sentence for owning a horse was death. Despite these many restrictions, most of the Anatolian Greeks got along with no more than a good bit of grumbling, willing to put up with these draconian laws so long as they were able to live in peace.

    However, the ability of the Sublime Porte to ensure peace in the region was dramatically thrown into question with the outbreak of the civil war in 1512. The western regions of Anatolia universally struck for Mehmed, while Bithynia and Paphlagonia proper both remained under the control of Ebülhayr Paşa and his men. Of course, as the war raged on in Thrake, the vizier was forced to hastily transfer many of the garrison soldiers to Europe to help him in the titanic struggle there. This, naturally, led to the advance of the Mehmedist horsemen from the interior, as there was next to no army present to stop them from doing so. Ebülhayr Paşa allowed only for a handful of milia units to be raised to defend Bithynia from the raiders, fearing the uprising of the repressed natives more than he did the invasion of his arch-rival’s forces. As such, by the end of 1513 the entire region had been overrun by the Turkmen.

    These Turkmen were a wild bunch, more accustomed to the semi-nomadic and raiding lifestyles of the inner Plateau than to the bureaucratic and systematic governance of settled regions, such as the aforementioned sanjaks of Bithynia and Paphlagonia. They were fanatical Muslims, considering themselves to be the warriors of God, Swords of the Faith, Soldiers of the Prophet, ghazis and mujahideen alike[2]. The pre-existing Turkish conceit that the Greeks had been delivered into their servitude because of their cowardice, intemperance and worst of all, their refusal to accept the faith was magnified by the easy triumph of these fanatical nomads over the defenseless Christians, and their leader, the former governor of the Anatolian Elayet, Malkoçoğlu Bali Bey, began demanding that all Christians submit to Islam. This went over as well as could be expected, and several of the ulema sent out to proselytize in more isolated Greek villages wound up ‘disappearing’ into the surrounding wilds.

    However, the persecutions that wound up sparking the Greek revolt did not begin in earnest until the outbreak of Nikolaidis' Revolt in July 1514. Kalpazar (OTL Bilecik) was one of the largest urban areas that had been relatively unaffected by the civil war, supporting large populations of Greeks and Armenians. It was one of the few areas of the former Byzantine Empire to have managed to preserve its silk works, and so it was quite the wealthy business center. The city had a number of Orthodox and Apostolic[3] churches, and was a minor pilgrimage center in the region. Seeing the significance which the city held to the Christians, Malkoçoğlu Bali Bey sent a force to the city in July 1514, demanding the razing of the churches and the conversion of the city to Islam. Obviously, this wasn’t likely to go over well, so the imam, one Kaykhusraw of Saray, had a sizable military escort. This military escort got him through the gate, but it is frankly shocking that none of the horsemen thought better of riding into a warren of side streets and tall buildings populated by natives whose feelings towards them ranged from restiveness to outright hatred. Nonetheless, they rode directly into the city center, where the town mayor was bluntly and publicly informed by the imam that the city was to be converted to the true faith and its churches pulled down. There were several minutes of stunned silence before a silk worker grabbed a brick and attacked the imam from behind, whacking him over the head with it and knocking him out of the saddle. The Kalpazaroi then swarmed the rest of the Turkish horsemen, who were barely able to defend themselves given the narrow confines of the city and were quickly cut down en masse. An elderly sipahi[4], Nikolaos Nikolaidis, quickly relived the mayor and took command of the situation, raising the standard of his old force in revolt.

    The Kalpazar Flag, one of the great symbols of Greek nationalism

    Nikolaidis quickly set about organizing the revolt, training men, procuring/making weapons and stockpiling food from the surrounding regions. The city’s walls were hastily rebuilt and expanded, while one singular cannon was hauled out from an Angelovic-era former border fort. This was no great army, but God-willing, the rag-tag bunch of fanatics and militiamen would be able to hold the walls against the Turkmen until help arrived. He sent riders out to the Karamanids, to other Greek cities and even one all the way to Trapezous, begging for help. He received little aid from his fellow Anatolian Greeks, however, most of whom feared retribution for aiding what looked to be a lost cause.

    These preparations were well-warranted, for in early August Malkoçoğlu Bali Bey arrived with several thousand horsemen. Light cavalry, which was the bulk of the force, isn’t exactly good for assaulting cities, and so Malkoçoğlu Bali Bey settled in for a siege, establishing a blockade of the city to keep anything from getting or going out. He also flung the corpses of his own men, many of whom had died from the usual camp diseases, over the wall in hopes of spreading plagues amongst the populace. Both of these strategies were highly effective, as the sizable population of the city required a great deal of food and Nikolaidis had been unable to send away the non-combatants as was usual in siege warfare. By the end of October, food stores were almost non-existent, diseases were rampant amongst the Kalpazaroi and there seemed to be no prospect of help. Nonetheless, Nikolaides and the city’s bishop, Alexios of Kalpazar, were able to buoy the spirit of the defenders, who were increasingly filled with the grim determination of doomed men. As November dragged on, the Turkmen began bombarding the walls, forcing defenders to congregate to meet them, then hurling diseased bodies at those spots. This only worsened the ongoing disease problem, and as the end of the month drew nearer, it became apparent that they would soon have to surrender. The question was put to a vote, and the Kalpazaroi resolved to face death rather than defeat. On 21 November, the Feast of the Presentation of the Mother of God, Nikolaides and several hundred poorly-armed men arrayed themselves at the southern gate. Meanwhile, the women and children of the city began throwing themselves off of the northern wall, which sat atop a series of cliffs, rather than facing a lifetime of torture and slavery. The Kalpazaroi charged out of the battered gate, screaming war-cries as their ragged bands swarmed across No-Man’s Land and into the Turkmen camp. Most of them were killed quickly, being poorly armed and even worsley(?)-armored, but the Turkmen too fell in droves. The air was filled with screams and shouts of the dead and dying, the whistle of arrows and the thunder of the few cannons present. The Turks were caught by surprise but quickly rallied, surrounding the Kalpazaroi and grinding them down with swords and arrows. At long last, the battle was over. The Turkmen then rushed into the city, finding it mostly abandoned, looting anything that wasn’t nailed down and burning or smashing the rest. Most of the Kalpazaroi had followed through with their pact and laid dead either on the field or at the foot of the cliffs, but a few hundred still remained. The fates of these poor souls were….unpleasant….to say the least, but worst of all was their execution. Furious at the city’s insolence, Malkoçoğlu Bali Bey ordered the survivors to be crucified along the road leading back to Eskişehir for a period of three days, then burned any who still lived upon their crosses. The city was then demolished wholesale.

    This was the spark that lit the powder keg. The Anatolian Greeks were willing to put up with a lot, but crucifying brothers and sisters in the faith--many of them children!--and then burning those crosses was too much. As word of the atrocities spread, the stories became inflated, describing the Turkmen beating and raping the entirety of the city’s population before nailing them onto flaming crosses and hurtling them off a cliff, or people being tied to crosses by their own intestines, or having nails driven up their genitals, etc, etc. Special attention was given to the fate of the churches within the city and their priests and monks, all of whom had been tortured even more than the other Kalpazaroi. By the spring of 1515, the general consensus was that the Turkmen were going to do the same to all of them, and that the Anatolians needed to strike first before they faced the same fate as their brethren. Men across the region were preparing to take up arms against their oppressors after so long subject to their yoke.

    The Great Rising began on 19 January 1515, the Feast of the Epiphany. The men of Magnesia on the Sangarios (Gevye) silently took up arms on the rainy night, slipping through the streets of the city to pick off the Turkish garrison piecemeal. With their occupiers slaughtered, the Bishop of Magnesia, Gabriel Lefkos, proclaimed the restoration of the Empire of Nikaia. Within weeks, cities across the region followed Magnesia’s lead, slaughtering or driving out their garrisons. For a time it seemed as if all of Bithynia would rise and the Turkmen would be forced to flee for their lives, but this never came to pass. While the urban mobs of the cities were good at defeating horsemen in street fighting, they were significantly less capable in open-field battles, which the Turkmen excelled at. Because of this, several cities were recaptured by the Turks after their military force, per se, rushed out to attack the horsemen on foot and were surrounded and mowed down. However, for the most part they remained holed up behind their walls or in the immediately surrounding area, forcing the Turks to spread themselves thin to keep them all pinned down. Many of the rural rebels took to guerrilla tactics, waylaying patrols and isolated detachments of enemy riders. They joined forces with the klephts--brigands who nominally robbed for the sake of an Imperial restoration--and quickly turned all but a few major roads into death zones for Turkish cavalry, further limiting them.

    One of these klephts, a Pont[5] by the name of Basileios Panagiokhristophorites, quickly became something of a commander in the revolt after killing a bey in single combat in May 1515. Panagiokhristophorites was a short, ugly man with a short temper, excellent fighting skills and unusual piety, who had fought under Ebülhayr Paşa during his invasion of Eprios and was familiar with the tactics with which Epirote irregulars had confounded the invaders. Under Panagiokhristophorites’ command, the klephts joined with the armatoloi[6], as the militia were coming to be called, in the systematic targeting and destruction of significant Turkish forces. The self-proclaimed katepano would follow Turkish forces as they rode between points, waiting until they were vulnerable before striking like a bolt from on high. He famously broke the sieges of Prusias (Duzce) and Angelokastron (Inegol) in August 1515, moving with shocking speed across the breadth of the region held by the rebels by the end of the campaign season of 1515, the rebels had carved a broad swath of land away from either of the Turkish combatants, all of which was proclaimed the property of the Emperor of Nikaia.

    But who, exactly was to become the Emperor of Nikaia? A number of local magnates had been proposed, but the general feeling was that a pre-existing monarch would be needed to secure the newly-independent state. The logical candidate for this was the Trapezuntine Emperor, but the ongoing regency for a literal child made this unappealing, to say the least. The Morean Despot was also floated around, as well as several of his relatives, but upon contact all of them refused. This question continued to occupy the attentions of many of the rebel leaders throughout the autumn of 1515 and into the spring of 1516, when it was suddenly overshadowed by other events.

    While many Turkmen soldiers and officers had been killed, Malkoçoğlu Bali Bey had not been one of them. He had been able to withdraw back into Anatolia proper during the late summer of 1515, where he had set about raising another army. Many of the Turkmen, both in the Ottoman realm and beyond, were used to raiding and warfare and were hungry for battle, while many others were Ottoman-aligned bands that had been pushed north by the Karamanid invasion the previous year. As such, he was able to raise a large number of horsemen and even a respectable number of infantrymen by the time the next spring came. In April 1516, he crossed back into rebel territory with 8,000 horsemen and 2,500 infantry, relieving Eskişehir and then fighting through rebel-held territory all the way to Angelokastron and beyond. By the beginning of April, he had reached Bursa, former capital of the Ottoman state, and reestablished a presence in Bithynia, a serious blow to the rebel cause. Even worse, the civil war in Europe seemed to be winding down in the vizier’s favor, so they soon may have to deal with an invasion from another army, or several. With few other options, Lefkos and Panagiokhristophorites finally broke down and formally invited David I of Trapezous to take the throne of the Nikaian Empire.

    Ratetas eagerly agreed and began assembling a fleet and expeditionary force at once. It still remained to be seen, however, if he would arrive in time to turn the tide once again….

    [1] All of these were really done by Ottoman irregulars putting down the Bulgarian Uprising of 1876, known to history as the Bulgarian Horrors
    [2] All of these were titles that historic Muslim warriors had bestowed upon them by either themselves or others of the same ilk.
    [3] That is, Orthodox and Armenian churches. A number of Armenian merchants and craftsmen had migrated to the region during the Rumite period and stuck around after their collapse.
    [4] Prior to the 17th Century, non-Muslims were allowed to become Sipahis
    [5] Here, Pont refers to the dialect of Greek spoken, as the Pontic-Paphlagonian dialect was spoken across the Black Sea littoral. Panagiokhristophorites was in fact a bog-standard Paphlagonian
    [6] This is a serious anachronism, referring to the Venetian mercenaries-turned-Ottoman constables who resided in Thessaly and Epiros during this time period, eventually playing a major role in the Greek Revolution. I’m using it here because they were (very) roughly the same, and because I couldn’t come up with anything better.
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    Part XXXVII: Return to the Sangarios (1516-1517)
  • Eparkhos

    Not best, not a lot of time, thank you all, will revise later

    Part XXXVII: Return to the Sangarios (1516-1517)

    When Nikaia’s call for aid arrived in Trapezous, it arrived at what was probably the most opportune moment given the previous years’ turmoil. Ratetas had set about trying to reorganize the chaotic and undisciplined remnants of the army into a true fighting force, making surprisingly good progress in a mere two months. The primary losses had been amongst the officer corps, and while they would take time to replace in terms of quality, in terms of quantity it wasn’t especially difficult to just promote NCOs and junior officers up the ranks. The bandons, thank God, had remained mostly intact and could still be called upon if need-be, while the standing army had been significantly diminished but were still a capable force. The eleutheroi had been reduced to less than two hundred by the purges, Sabbides’ revolt and Ypsilantis’ coup, but they could be used as a core to rebuild around. Already, Trapezuntine ships were stalking the coasts of Circassia, waiting to pounce upon any slaver they caught unescorted. Speaking of ships, the Trapezuntine navy was in great condition, as Ratetas had managed to keep them firmly latched to the treasury’s teat, and any postponed repairs or equipment changes were rushed through once he was officially in power.

    Moreover, Ratetas was also eager to join their western brothers in their struggle for independence. He was a deeply pious man and had been infuriated by the reports of the atrocities against the faithful that came streaming out of Bithynia after Kolpazar’s fall, and had gone so far as to dispatch ships to evacuate refugees from Pontoherakleia in 1515. His personal desire for vengeance was not the only motivating factor, however, as there was a great deal of political and strategic benefit to be gained from intervention. By leading a successful campaign against the infidels--and the hated Ottomans, at that--he would legitimize himself as regent, making it far more difficult for any rivals to unseat him, as well as make himself enormously popular. Annexing such lands as were held by the rebels, excuse me, Nikaians, would also benefit Trapezous by at the very least creating a buffer zone and at the very best allowing them to establish complete control of the Anatolian littoral. He wasn’t deluded, of course, and he knew that the best that he could realistically hope for was all of Paphlagonia with Prousias and Pontoherakleia thrown in, but still, it was a tantalizing prospect. As such, he wrote to Lefkos and Panagiokhristophorites and promised that he would arrive in July to aid them if they could just hold out for a few more months.

    In the interim, he set about raising an army. He was able to muster some 10,000 soldiers from the regular army while still leaving enough behind to secure the capital and the Empire proper, and then raised sixty bandons (15,000 men) from the lands surrounding the capital, promising them vast rewards taken from those Turkish bastards when they drove them away from Christian hearths and homes. This first force was just barely able to fit aboard the Trapezuntine armada (and a few requisitioned grain merchantmen[1]), and so it would be the force which Ratetas would lead against Bithynia himself. He was a sailor, not a soldier, though, so the actual soldiers aboard would be commanded by a minor general named Khristophoros Raptis. However, it would not be the sole army, as he also raised forty more bandons (10,000 men) and put them under the command of his cousin, Sabbas Tarkhaneiotes. Tarkhaneiotes was a somewhat experienced commander, having commanded forces on the southern frontier and thus being used to the raid-and-counter-raid pattern of conflict with Turkmen bands. Tarkhaneiotes was to stay behind in Trapezous, to keep the Karamanids or Qutlughids from getting any ideas[2]. Of course, securing supplies for such an armada would take time, and so it was not until late June that the expeditionary force was truly assembled. After a week of awkward maneuvering, camps in the middle of the city, and disorganized loading, the armada put out from Trapezous on 6 July 1516. There were 15,000 soldiers, nearly 20,000 sailors, and several thousand horses loaded aboard more than fifty transports and escorted by that and more warships, one of the largest forces raised in all of Trapezuntine history.

    After departing the capital, the grand fleet hugged the Pontic coast all the way to Sinope, where they weighed anchor and made some last-minute resupplies in addition to taking on two more bandons and a pair of galleys to join their number. Whether either of these galleys was the Çandarid flagship which Ratetas had captured nearly fifty years previous is unknown[3], but the regent and admiral almost certainly thought of that incident before they departed once again on 19 July. After weighing anchor, the ships continued along the Pontic coast to Abana, the easternmost town in the Empire. A single salvo was fired that afternoon, officially marking the beginning of the Trapezuntine intervention. They pressed further onwards in the same formation, passing Amisos (OTL Amasra) on 23 July and landing five bandons to capture the city. The defenders fled without firing a shot and three of them were left behind to garrison the port.

    Four days later, they arrived at Pontoherakleia. The city had been under siege for the better half of the last year by a motley force of klephts and armatoloi, not enough to actually take the city but enough to make leaving the city or receiving supplies overland a nightmare for the garrison. As the vanguard arrived, its commodore[4], Ioannes Psarimarkos, sent a message to the garrison commander demanding that they surrender outright and immediately. This was, as expected, ignored by the city’s commander, who no doubt believed that some of the rebels had managed to hijack/liberate a few slave galleys and were now playing pirates. We can only imagine how the commander felt as he watched the rest of the Trapezuntine fleet pull around the headland north of the city. He hastily tried to surrender, but Ratetas apologetically informed him that allowing a garrison who had refused to surrender to go free would be a bad precedent. Six galleries closed to within cannonshot of the harbor and opened up, sending several hundred pounds of stone and lead into the walls of the citadel at subsonic speeds. Within half an hour the eastern face of the castle had collapsed, and the Turks were allowed to surrender. Five bandons were landed to secure the city, alongside the local klephts and the armatoloi. Ratetas then split his forces, sending twenty galleys to advance before them and sweep the coast of any Ottoman ships while the rest of the armada pressed on along the coast.

    On 30 July, the fleet made landfall at its final destination, the mouth of the Sangarios River. (Note: the modern coastline around the mouth of the Sakarya was created after extensive dredging by the Turkish government during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Prior to this, much of the coastal strip was taken up a mangrove swamp, and the river was constantly silting up its mouth, which was much wider than OTL. At this time, the mouth of the Sangarios would have been 5km inland from the modern coast, near the OTL village of Tuzla. The river mouth would have been a sizable harbor, albeit a fairly shallow one outside of the main channel.) The Trapezuntines weighed anchor in the narrow river mouth and quickly captured the small nearby village of Kontolimani, which was turned into a bustling harbor. Over the next few days, the entire host was put ashore there, forming up in a sprawling camp system that encompassed more than a square mile. On 3 August, the unloading was finally completed, having been delayed by the lack of good port facilities. At long last, however, Ratetas and his army were ready to do battle.

    It was excellent timing, to say the very least. The reversal of fortunes had only gotten worse since the Nikaians had sent their cry for help, and they were now on the ropes. While the klephts and the armatoloi still clung on in the highlands, Malkoçoğlu Bali Bey and his cavalrymen had succeeded in driving them from the lowlands of Bithynia, and many of the major cities had surrendered rather than share the fate of Kolpazar. Back in June, Ebülhayr Paşa had dispatched a small force to put down the revolt, and the two factions had made common cause to put down the rebels. Magnesia itself was under siege, and if it were to fall the fire would go out of the rebellion altogether. Ratetas was hastily informed of all of this by Panagiokhristophorites, who had mustered a host of 3,000 in hopes of breaking the siege or at the very least wearing them down. The arrival of the Trapezuntines was a welcome relief, and the regent and the thief soon began concocting a plan….

    After departing Kontolimani, Ratetas and his army marched directly for Magnesia. No doubt driven by fear of the rebel capital falling, they moved swiftly (well, as swiftly as one can when most of your experienced commanders are dead) southwards, beating back Turkmen outriders in all directions. They moved along the left bank of the Sangarios this entire time, seemingly with no regards to secrecy or security. Word of their march reached Malkoçoğlu, and he was left to watch in confusion as they blundered directly towards them. This Ratetas fellow was far from a skilled general according to all reports, but he had to be a special kind of stupid to be acting like he was. Come on, marching 10,000 men directly towards the enemy’s camp when they are superior in both numbers and experience? Nonetheless, the bey decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth and moved to intercept. In order to approach Magnesia from the north, the Trapezuntine army would have to pass through the narrow Sangarios Pass. The Turkmen lay in wait, of course, camped upon the steep slopes of the mountains and waiting for the enemy to make contact with them. Finally, on 17 August, the approaching Trapezuntine force became visible, and Malkoçoğlu readied his men for battle. As the enemy infantry entered the valley, he raised the horsetail banner and ordered his men to open fire, sending a hail of arrows down at them.

    But then the left side of the valley exploded into gunfire, sending a hail of bullets and cannonballs streaking across the breadth of the valley. The bey turned to look, or rather he would have turned to look had the left side of his body not decided to try and occupy the same space as a cannonball. More Greeks came swarming out of a small side valley, ranks of men on the side of the mountain opening fire with cannons, arquebuses and crossbows. With hoarse war cries, the Ponts streamed across the valley and fell upon the Turkish ambuscade like a bolt from on-high, easily cutting down the practically unarmored dismounted archers. Taken completely off-guard, the Turkmen were unable to respond in kind for several crucial moments, and with their commander dead and his standard fallen, many of the Turkmen ran for their lives. The Trapezuntines followed them, cutting down many before they reached their waiting horses and fled in disarray.

    Panagiokhristophorites had led nearly 15,000 men through a winding series of valleys, over rough hills and in one case even across the face of a sheer cliff to arrive in the flank of the valley, where they hoped the Turkmen would be waiting for Ratetas and the bait force. By sheer luck, it had worked exactly as planned, and now the Ottoman army was shattered, running scared across the valley. The next day, the Trapezuntines relieved Magnesia and paraded through the streets of the beleaguered city to the roar of the townspeople. Ratetas formally accepted Lefkos’ offer of the Nikaian crown on behalf of his charge.

    In the following weeks, Trapezuntine forces would spread out across the region, recapturing several cities from the Turks and driving their raiders from much of the highlands. Prousias still stood strong, and Bolu would be put to a siege as their Turkish garrison fought to the bitter end. Phrygia[5] proper was quickly secured, and Ratetas soon directed his attention to an offensive against the still-Ottoman lands to the north and west. That October, Ratetas and a force of 15,000 marched against Nikomedia, once the chief port city of the region. Under Ottoman rule, the city’s defenses had lapsed due to a perceived lack of threat, and its garrison had been siphoned away to join the fighting in Europe. The regent had cannons hauled onto the heights to the north of the city and pounded away at the city walls, but in spite of his best efforts the defenders stood as strong as those in Ferrara, fighting on from the rubble against overwhelming odds. Ebülhayr Paşa was bogged down in Europe, believing that Mehmed was on the ropes and could be defeated within that campaign season, but recognized how damaging the loss of Nikomedia would be and redirected forces to support the city, fearing that with its loss Constantinople would be left open to attack. Because of this, in spite of the long odds facing the defenders, they were able to hold out throughout the autumn of 1516, into the winter of 1516 and then into the spring of 1517. Even as the city was reduced to a glorified pile of rubble and Ratetas ordered frequent assaults across the many breaches in the city’s walls, they were able to hold out. By March of 1517, however, it had become apparent that they wouldn’t be able to do so for much longer. The slow trickle of reinforcements had been cut off entirely as Mehmed’ second wind drove the vizier’s forces back down the Axios Valley, and Ratetas hoped that at long last he would take the city.

    But Nikomedia would receive a stay of execution as Ebülhayr Paşa sued for peace. Mehmed had somehow managed to turn the tide in the far west, and he needed every man available to him to be in the field ASAP. He believed that the Trapezuntines would be seriously overextending themselves by pushing into Bithynia, and so they could be rather easily defeated once he had managed to restore order within the Ottoman realm. He was willing to take territorial losses in the east, because he thought they were recoverable. As such, he proposed that Bithynia proper (sans the ports, of course, because the last thing he needed were Trapezuntine ships in the Marmora) be given over to the Nikaians. Ratetas, however, refused. He was far from a seasoned administrator, but he knew that having such a large exclave on the far side of Anatolia was a recipe for disaster. After several weeks of back and forth, the regent and the grand vizier settled upon an agreeable arrangement. All of Ottoman Paphlagonia and Kontolimni would be given over to the Trapezuntines, while the Nikaians would be ceded a decent section of land, a map of which will be posted alongside this. The Nikaians weren’t the happiest, being forced to give up a great deal of their conquered/liberated lands so the Trapezuntines could take Paphlagonia. However, Ratetas brushed off these concerns, instead concerned with word coming out of the Qutlughid Empire. But of course, all of this would be overshadowed by the brewing conflict in the west….

    [1] Trapezuntine merchants were required to give up their ships to the aftokrator in times of crisis, but they weren’t exactly happy about this
    [2] The Qutlughids were, nominally speaking, allies of the Trapezuntines, but alliances only last as long as their members are willing to honor them.
    [3] Some truly ancient galleys were kept around in reserves or mothball fleets, ready to be reactivated in times of crisis if they were needed. Of course, they weren’t exactly effective, but, hey, if push comes to shove it’s always good to be prepared.
    [4] i.e. subcommander
    [5] This refers to the hilly areas in the north and east of Bithynia.
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    Map of the gains from the Third Trapezuntine-Ottoman War
  • Eparkhos

    Alright, first things first: the map. Sorry for not posting it last night, my basement was being flooded and I was worried I'd lose power.

    Dark blue is pre-war Trapezous
    Light blue is annexed into the Trapezuntine Empire
    Orange is part of the Nikaian Empire, which is in personal union with the Trapezuntine Empire

    In each of the cities, there is a pie chart showing the predominant ethnicities. Blue is Greek, Green is Turkish, and Yellow is Armenian
    Part XXXVIII (1517-1531): The Spoils of War
  • Eparkhos

    Part XXXVIII (1517-1531): The Spoils of War

    Loukas Ratetas’ expedition to the Sangarios had seen hundreds of square miles of land pass under the lordship of David Megalokomnenos, both directly into the Trapezuntine crownlands and into the newly-reestablished Nikaian crown. These new territories encompassed a population of Armenians, Greeks, Seljuks and Turkmen, who followed a bizarre mix of Apostolic and Orthodox Christians, orthodox Sunni Muslims, heterodox Sufi Muslims, and a smattering of Catholics and Shiites. Most of these new territories also lay hundreds of miles away from the Trapezuntine heartlands across regions ravaged by war and brigandry. Administering them would be quite the challenge, to say the least.

    The most pressing problem were the Turkmen, who had taken to raiding unabashedly during the absence of Ottoman control, and would need to be either reduced or driven out by force. Between 1518 and 1521, Panagiokhristophorites and a mixed force of Nikaians and Trapezuntines conducted a campaign of eradication, directed both at the Turkmen and the Seljuk or Greek bandits who had taken up residence in the wild country of the hills and the distant forests. The former klepht was successful in defeating his one-time confederates on the one hand, succeeding in eliminating brigandry in the region with the force of overwhelming arms, but while he was able to reduce the Turkish presence in Bithynia by a great number, driving them out of the highlands and the valleys proper. However, the Turkmen were able to retreat to the great rolling plains of nominal Ottoman and Karamanid land, where Panagiokhristophorites could not pursue. Seeking any possible solution to the raiding problem, Ratetas had a series of border fortifications erected along the edge of the hill country. They were far from the Great Wall, or even the Sangarios Line that Andronikos II had erected, and would crumble before a determined assault by the Karamanids or similar, but they were strong enough to fend off the minor bands of raiders that frequented the frontier zones. The construction of the so-called Phrygian Wall was completed by 1525, a string of small earthen forts each four miles apart with cavalry bases established between every fifth station. These were able to hold off Turkmen raiders practically indefinitely, and the end of the raiding endeared the Megalokomnenoi to their new subjects.

    The second issue of concern were the Armenians. The Turks and the Muslims could be allowed a degree of freedom because they were outright heathens, but allowing the merely heretical Apostolics the same liberties would infuriate the church, whose support Ratetas needed to keep the regency. As such, he was unable to proclaim complete freedom for the Armenains--Loukas himself believed that the Armenians could be valuable allies against the Turks--and instead gave them a status halfway between the Orthodox and the infidels, sparing them from the taxes levied upon the Muslims and allowing them to serve in the bandons and thus own weaponry. However, the Apostolic Church was kept at an arm’s length, and Ratetas refused to acknowledge its existence, instead directing any delegations from them to the Patriarch. However, he was able to encourage the two churches to try and work out a deal, which shall be elaborated upon later.

    And, finally, there were the Turks and Muslims. Ratetas found dealing with all the different imams and ulema an exhausting affair, let alone trying to mediate between the Sunnis and the Suffis. As such, he appointed a bishop named Theodoros of Alexandria as “Grand Counselor of the Mohammedans” or megas symvolos ton mousoulmanon, charged with dealing with the fractious bastards and giving truncated reports to the regent. The rank-and-file Muslims, meanwhile, were ready to go about as per usual, albeit subject to a whole heaping pile of taxes. Ratetas considered subjecting them to the same harsh treatment which the Anatolian Greeks had faced….unwise….given the strength of the Karamanids and how they would jump at the opportunity to carry the jihad northwards. This was protested strenuously by the Nikaians, who were eager for revenge, but Ratetas was firm and the infidels were allowed to continue on as normal. Mind you, there were still persecutions--there were lynch mobs in every major city (their success depended on how willing the city’s eparkhos was to stand against a baying mob) and a quarter of Krateia was burned to the ground in one particularly nasty incident in 1523--but for the most part, they were….not dead.

    As previously mentioned, Ratetas had won a great deal of land, split between Trapezous proper and Nikaia. This land was a spectrum of different landforms, from the rolling pseudo-steppe of Inner Paphlagonia, the rainforest-covered mountains of Outer Paphlagonia[1], the broad and fertile plains of Bithynia, the forested hills of Phrygia proper to the dry and scrubby fringes of Galatia. Once again as aforementioned, the denizens of this broad spectrum of land were equally diverse in both tongue and faith. The boundaries of the annexation had been drawn without regard to either geography or ethnicity, instead focusing on control of important cities and roads. Ratetas had concluded that these were far more important in governing the newly-conquered territories than their natural geography, and this was not incorrect.

    The most important city in the west was Magnesia (OTL Geyve), the true capital of the Empire of Nikaia. Nikaia itself had been reduced to little more than rubble by the armies of Orkhan I back in the 14th century--its population had fallen from upwards of 15,000 under Ioannes III Vatatzes to only 1200 by the early 16th century--and Ratetas concluded that rebuilding the de jure capital simply wasn’t worth it. Magnesia, in comparison, had a population of nearly 5,000, having soared with refugees and volunteers after becoming the rebel capital, and was strategically located within a large and roomy valley, its northern approaches protected by a gorge along the Sangarios and its western approach, the only other entry large enough to march an army through, having similar natural defenses. Magnesia was also already decently fortified, having once been a major fortress city during the waning days of Byzantine rule in Asia Minor, and these stoneworks could be used as the foundation for more extensive and modern defenses. Finally, the city was also a regional trading center, being a stopover on the route from Constantinople to Ankara or Konya. Ratetas had the remnants of the Nikaian throne room gathered up from their dusty ruins and carried overland to Magnesia, where they were rebuilt using new materials in 1519. David was crowned as Nikaian emperor the following year, following a voyage from Trapezous.

    Speaking of which, the easternmost fringe of the Trapezuntine Empire proper was Kontolimni, soon renamed Davidoupoli (OTL Manavpinari), which lay a mere 150 km from Constantinople itself and was the only Megalokomnenoi territory in Bithynia on the left bank of the Sangarios. Recognizing the importance that such a port would have in communications and trade between Trapezous and Nikaia, Ratetas put a great deal of money into developing the port from a sleepy fishing village to a major city. The mouth of the Sangarios was dredged[2] heavily, the excess silt being used to build up a breakwater beside Davidoupoli, ultimately expanding the harbor to nearly a kilometer and a half wide at its mouth and two kilometers front to back. This was a far sight from its maximum size in the 12th Century--the Genoese had constructed a factory at Tuzla, another kilometer beyond the southern edge of the extended harbor--but it was enough to accommodate all but the heaviest of merchantmen. A set of earth-and-stone walls, designed to reduce the threat posed by cannons, were erected around the city’s landward side. Tax breaks were offered to encourage the settlement of merchants and craftsmen, and by 1536 its population had risen from sixty in 1516 to more than three thousand.

    While Magnesia and Davidoupoli--together with Pontoherakleia, whose was settled with a number of Pontic farmers on land seized from the former Turkish population and which saw and influx of traders and artisans as it became a stopover point on the route from Davidoupoli to Sinope and Trapezous--were the chief cities of the new territories, there were also several others of significant import. The southern border of the Nikaian Empire had been pushed south of actually Greek land to encompass two almost-entirely majority Turkish cities, Nalisaray and Beypazar. Nalisaray was a major stopover along the trans-Anatolian caravan routes and Ratetas considered it important to project power into Anatolia proper, while Beypazar was a secondary trading city and had several decently-sized silver mines located adjacent to the city. Kolpazar had been resettled with Lazes and Armenians and renamed Martyropolis in 1519, its citizens eventually being commemorated as martyrs in the official canon of the Orthodox church. There were also several cities taken in Paphlagonia proper; the fairly minor settlement Gerede, renamed Krateia, which had been a raiding center for several Karaman-affiliated bands who had only recently been expelled by the Ottomans; Safranoupoli, which was one of the largest centers of crocus growing in the Near East; Beyabad, a mountaintop fortress which guarded the western passes into Pontus.

    However, none of these compared to the chief city of Paphlagonia, Kastamonu. Kastamonu was, like so many others, a trading center, but it was one of the chief trading centers of Anatolia. Stories of the great quantities of spices and metals that were exchanged here were told as far away as Morocco, and it was famous for the jewelry and tools that its skilled craftsmen forged out of the white copper[3] which was mined from the surrounding hills. The city was host to a great number of craftsmen and artisans, its pottery and its jewelry being spoken of and valued the world over. It had recovered well from the chaos of the late Çandarid period, and by the time of the Trapezuntine conquest it supported a population of nearly 10,000, a great number in contemporary Anatolia. It was also of great strategic importance, as it lay near the geographic center of Paphlagonia and thus exerted great sway over the surrounding countryside, and sported an excellent set of walls courtesy of the sanjak whose seat it had once been. Amongst its many craftsmen were also a great number of gunsmiths, and it was a fairly important center of Turkish cannon-making.

    However, all of this was secondary to the Trapezuntines in terms of the city’s significance. For centuries, the city had glimmered like a mirage in front of so many Trapezuntine emperors, so close yet so far, and at long last Ratetas had realized their dream of possessing it. The cause for this was almost laughably simple; its name. Kastamonu was the Turkish bastardization of the Greek Kastamone, which was a contraction of the city’s foundational name; Kastra Komnenon. It had been here that Manouel Erotikos Komnenos had been allowed to raise a fort by Basileios Bulgaronktos himself in the closing years of the 10th century, here that the khagkra eagle[4], which would become the symbol not only of the Komnenoi and Megalokomnenoi but of the Byzantine Empire itself, had first been carved into stone by Isaakios I, here where Alexios Komnenos, Alexios the Great, the Restorer, had been born and where he and his great general Tatikios had learned the art of war. The cruel hands of fate had borne the cradle of the great house into the hands of the barbarians for far too long, but at long last, after four-hundred and thirty-one years of Turkish squatting, it was restored to its rightful owners on 13 April 1517 by an army under the command of Sabbas Tarkhaneiotes.

    This act alone was worthy of a triumph, and as Ratetas and his protege paraded through the streets of the city in just such a procession, a number of Turkish raiders and defeated soldiers following them in chains, a new era was dawning for the Trapezuntine Empire. As Ratetas spoke in his oration to a cheering crowd:

    “With this, the tribulations and humiliations of ourselves and our ancestors have been at last ended. This too marks the beginning of another period, and we shall reverse these despicable woes and cast them upon our foes. Manzikert still waits to be avenged, and with the strength of God behind us, the great project we embark upon will soon be completed….”

    [1] Some parts of Outer Paphlagonia are even rainer than Pontos is, with OTL Zonguldak averaging 145 days of rain in comparison to Trabzon/Trapezous’ 137.
    [2] ‘Dredging’ refers to the act of scooping up the sediment from a harbor or cove. This can be done to either deepen a channel or port as in this update, or it can be done to even out or even extend the shoreline.
    [3] Medieval name for nickel
    [4] This was the first name for the double-headed eagle.
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    Part XIL: The Three Leagues (1494-1517)
  • Eparkhos

    Part XIL: The Three Leagues (1494-1517)

    During the closing years of the 15th Century, France had risen to become the hegemon of Europe. French territory and French allies spread from the Scottish Highlands and the Arm of Holland, across the plains of the Po and the hills of Naples all the way to the distant Principality of Epiros on the far coast of the Adriatic in the east and the Lusitanian colonies in the New World in the west. No other state could even dream of rivaling the great French empire, not even the reviving Holy Roman Empire or the Central European power, Hungary. However, the power wielded by the kings of France put them in the cross-hairs of practically every other European state, and Paris’ many enemies would put aside their differences to advance their common interests of toppling her….

    After the end of the Italian Wars in the 1490s, Charles VIII had sought to shore up French control over Italy by giving the other Italian states a vested interest in preserving his and his successors’ regional domination. As such, in 1499 he had created the League of Verona, a group which encompassed France, the newly-revived Kingdom of Lombardy, Savona, Florence, the Papal States and Naples. This league was a tenuous affair, held together only by French power, which was able to overpower the long-standing Italian rivalries. From its outset it was doomed to failure, as most if not all of its member states had a burning hatred for one of their companions. The Lombards were a tenuous mess of crownlands, free cities, and vassal territories, which was also only held together by French might, and most if not all of its neighbors were sizing it up even as they swore their undying loyalty to France. Savona was probably the least inflammatory of the Veronan states, having good relations with France and Lombardy but being utterly hated by the Florentines. Urbino was also a strong French ally, but hated the Florentines with a burning passion and had a series of long-standing border disputes with the Papal States, the kind of border disputes that cannot be resolved without pissing everyone off. The Pope himself, Alexander VI, was fairly pro-French, but had reluctantly agreed to join the League after his initial policy of “alliance at arm’s length” had been foiled with the rise of Lombardy. The Papal States were dealing with the above-mentioned disputes with Urbino, as well as bearing a burning hatred for Florence. And, finally, there was Naples, which just sort of….was. The Neapolitan nobility was happy to remain the subjects of a distant and inattentive king, who let them essentially run things for themselves. As such, their participation in the League was more to keep the French happy and uninterested in southern Italy than out of any shared geopolitical interests with Paris.

    Of course, there was one problem child; Florence. Once the bleeding edge of global financial innovations and a center of de’Medici power, the city had been transformed into a theocratic dictatorship. As the 15th Century drew to a close, the apocalyptic piagoni movement had taken over the city, led by the charismatic priest Giacomo Savonarola[1]. Savonarola and his followers believed that the Time of Tribulations was at hand and that every Christian man and woman would be needed to fight Antichrist and his coming demonic hordes. As such, they purged Florence of any sign of decadence or wealth, expelling the bankers and the artists and other such degenerates and making the transition to a medieval total war society. Savonarola had declared Pope Alexander VI a tool of Antichrist--to be fair, he was almost comically corrupt and decadent, famously spending hours watching horses mate from the Apostolic Palace--and excommunicated him, for which he was excommunicated in turn. However, before the inevitable Crusader army could be assembled, the Italian Wars had kicked off and Florence, as a steadfast ally of Paris, had entered under French protection. Thus, Savonarola was free to lobby declarations of heresy at most of his neighbors, and Italy at large, and most of the western Mediterranean, too. By the 1510s, the Florentines had completely alienated all of its neighbors, and was swiftly falling out of alignment with France as well, whom Savonarola had come to regard as hopelessly decadent, and needing to be purged before the Tribulations began. Of course, he didn’t say this outloud, but as tensions across Europe rose, Savonarola began to consider turning against the French, for the sake of all that was righteous and holy. They may be outnumbered, of course, but had not the LORD given Gideon and his three hundred victory against thousands of pagans?

    Nor was Florence alone in starting to turn against French rule in Italy. The Venetians, while driven from most of their landward holdings, had never been reconciled to the idea of French hegemony and had steadfastly refused to join the League of Verona, in spite of constant raiding from the Lombards and a number of trade barriers thrown up by the other league states. The Venetians had begun building up their armed forces as the 1500s began under the leadership of Leonardo Loredan (elected in 1496), fearing attacks from the French and Lombards in Italy, the Hungarians in Dalmatia and the Ottomans in the east. Loredan’s ambitious projects saw the Venetian fleet grow massively, finally achieving the long-held ambition of every doge since Imbros in 1514 and eclipsing the Ottoman fleet in sheer size, with 135 galleys to their 116. The Venetians had managed to recover by monopolizing trade with the Mamluks and, according to the Calvians and Savonese, using the Barbary Corsairs to harass their rivals’ shipping.

    Calvi was also opposed to the League, putting it in a truly strange alliance with the Venetians. This was mostly due to their rivalry with the Savonese whom they, recall, viewed as usurpers to the legacy of Old Genoa, as well as the aforementioned trade barriers that the League had proclaimed, which had completely failed in their intention to force the maritime republics into the League. The legacy of Paolo di Campofregoso, who was hailed by the Calvians as “Father of the Republic” and “Savior of the Nation” also lived on strongly, with his nephew Tommasino taking office after his death in 1498. Tommasino continued Paolo’s policy of ‘Splendid Isolation’, which saw the Calvians make use of their position on Corsica to abstain from getting involved in wars on the mainland, allowing the Savonese and the Venetians to bleed themselves while they went about business as usual. As such, they were whole-heartedly opposed to getting involved in any mainland agreement, instead preferring to thumb their nose at Paris and Rome alike. The Calvians had managed to build up a sizable fleet of more than 75 galleys by 1515, which was more than enough to keep the mainlanders from getting any ideas.

    The only other state in Italy to oppose the League was Modena, but this was not due to any opposition to French hegemony but rather due to their own long-standing alliance with the French, which they prized jealously[2]. As such, the various dukes of Modena--Alfonso I ruling by the 1510s--had instead kept relations with France separate from the League. Charles was willing to accommodate his old ally, as he recognized that delivering what they believed would be an insult by forcing them into the League could easily drive them towards Venice or Florence. However, after Charles’ death in 1515, his successor, Louis XII, would make this error, which resulted in a severing of relations between the two states and the conduction of alliance between Venice and Modena.

    It should be noted that the ascension of Louis XII to the French throne marked a change in how France was regarded by foreign powers. Charles had been a capable general and a diplomat, well respected by both his subjects and foreign rulers, and he had used these traits to advance the cause of France in Italy and the Holy Roman Emperor. Loved and hated in equal measure, none could deny that he was a capable ruler. However, Louis XII was, to all appearances, an incapable ruler, only seventeen years of age with no experience in battle and the diplomatic tendencies of a jack mule. Several of the more loosely-aligned French allies, notably Brunswick in Germany and Florence and Urbino in Italy, began to drift away as this fool of a king abandoned his father’s carefully laid plans.

    While France wielded a great deal of influence in Italy, its influence outside of Italy was significantly less strong. The only major French-allied states outside of Italy were Epirus, Castilla e Portugal and Scotland. Epirus was truthfully more Neapolitan-aligned, but fell under the umbrella of French protection due to the personal union between the two states. France was also allied with Castilla e Portugal against Aragon, their mutual opponent, which put the Iberians in an awkward position given that they also had a long-standing alliance with the English. King Duarte had made an agreement with King Charles in 1503 that a Portuguese army would not be forced to fight an English force, but otherwise he backed the French practically to the hilt. This was because the chief Castillian-and-Portuguese strategic aim was to secure their eastern frontier so they could expand into North Africa without distraction. Because of this, an alliance with the French, who were long-time enemies of the Aragonese, made sense. However, were the Aragonese to cease to become a threat, then it would be in Duarte’s best interest to turn against the French to keep them from getting too powerful. This need, to keep a balance of power in Europe, would grow in import as Louis became increasingly bellicose, threatening his neighbors with war over the pettiest of matters.

    The Scots, on the other hand, were bound to the French at the hip, as they were the only sizable counter-weight to the English, who were always nipping at the southern border, with chronic raids and counterraids across the borderlands. The French also gave covert backing to Gerald FitzGerald, the Lord of Ireland, who sought to gain independence from the English. The justification for this was that this revolt would at best secure them another ally in the British Isles and at worst distract the English from events unfolding on the continent. This support was covert, but in 1516 Louis began making threats about supporting an Irish rising, which nearly scuppered Gerald’s plans. However, he was able to persuade Edward that it was in fact several of his subordinates who were plotting against him, and with their execution secured his cause for a few more years.

    The threat of an all-powerful France was significant enough of a motivating factor for the League of Munster to form in 1508. The League of Munster was an alliance between a number of minor German states--the Free City of Strassburg, the Duchies of Lorraine and of Wurttemberg, the Bishops of Trier, Metz and Munster, the Counties of Vaudemont and of Palatine Zweibrucken and the Swiss Federation--and several more significant powers--the Holy Roman Emperor, Bogislaw (who had taken the regnal name Fredrick III upon being crowned in Rome in 1504) who ruled the Duchies of Pomerania and Brandenburg, the latter as regent for his underage son, Christopher (b.1498), and the English, under Edward V. There was already an alliance between Pomerania-Brandenburg and England, Edward being married to Anna[3], the daughter of Bogislaw by Anne of Mecklenburg. However, the creation of the League of Munster allowed England, Pomerania-Brandenburg and the other minor states to present a united front against the expansion of French power into the Holy Roman Empire. Due to the efforts of Eric II, the brilliant Prince-Bishop of Munster, Charles was unable to secure any allies within Germany except for the Counts of Brunswick, who swiftly became a pariah, and the Duke of Carinthia[4], who became even more isolated than he had been before. While the League of Munster served to curtail the expansion of French power within the Holy Roman Empire, it had an equally important hidden clause, known only to Edward, Bogislaw, Eric and Philip II of the Rhinemouths. The secret thirteenth member of the League was the King-in-the-Rhinemouths, who desired above all complete independence from the rule of Paris.

    The membership of the Rhinemouths in the League of Munster was potentially inflammatory. A coalition against French interests could be tolerated by Paris, but directly fomenting revolt by a French vassal would lead directly to only one thing. The Rhinemouths were an awkward and unwieldy realm, a god-forsaken mess of different territories, crownlands, free cities and bishoprics that would make a unified defense against French invasion nigh-on impossible. However, Philip II--who almost perfectly fits the trope of a young and overeager king, having only taken the throne in 1506 at the age of 21--was confident that he could win his independence with the help of his allies. This was due in part to blind optimism, but there was some realistic grounding for this belief. The Rhinemouths were one of the most heavily urbanized parts of Europe, second only to Northern Italy, and as such was very wealthy, which meant that mercenaries from across the known world would flock to the excellent salaries paid by the Rhinemouthers. They were also at the bleeding edge of gunsmithing. The Rhinemouther armies were in the process of adopting pike-and-shot formations, which also gave them an advantage over foreign armies. However, there were still a number of weaknesses, most notably the rivalries between various parts of the realm and large numbers of burghers, who tended to surrender without sieges due to a desire to preserve their urban property.

    In spite of these, Edward and Bogislaw were willing to support Philip. Bogislaw’s support was rooted in the internal politics of the HRE. He had only achieved the throne after winning a bloody war with the Saxons and their allies, and many of the princes of the Empire still chafed under his rule. The presence of the French as a viable alternative to his rule was a serious threat to his legitimacy and the stability of the inner Empire, as many of the princes of the interior would gladly choose a distant monarch ruling from all the way in Paris than one ruling from less than a week’s ride away in Stettin. As such, he had a vested interest in expelling the French and their influence from the Empire as swiftly as possible, before the rot had time to take root. The fact that the Rhinemouths which was, legally speaking, his vassal, paid homage to Paris before it did him was also extremely insulting, enough to get under the normally diplomatic Emperor’s skin. Edward also had his own litany of reasons for supporting Philip II’s efforts for independence. Once again, a fair bit of it is obvious--France was England’s archrival, and it’s always a good time to weaken your archrival--but there is more depth to the topic. The Rhinemouthers had begun to develop a sizable fleet, one that was capable of rivaling the expanded Royal Navy which Edward had been constructing since the late 1490s. Edward didn’t want to risk letting the French get their hands on such a navy, which would allow them to launch an invasion a la 1066, and so felt obligated to try and win over the Rhinemouthers, with the destruction of their fleet preserved as a backup option. The urban core of the Rhinemouths was also a major market for English wool and jachaing, and Edward hated that the French were making money, albeit indirectly, from any English gain. From 1508 on, England, Rhinemouths, Pomerania-Brandenburg and, unknowingly, the Munsterian states, were perpetually on the brink of war with France, armies ready to be mobilized and fleets undertaking patrols and shakedown cruises in preparation for invasion. Charles’ death in 1515 nearly sparked war, but Edward backed out at the last moment, as the Scottish were being unusually aggressive and may invade before the English could meet them. As such, the Munsterian League was waiting for the word 5 ‘go’ throughout 1516 and 1517, like a hammer hovering above a firing pin. However, the spark of the conflict would not come from tensions in the north boiling over, but rather from events in Italy.

    On 13 November 1516, Pope Alexander VI keeled over at the ripe old age of 85. The Pope’s faculties had begun to desert him around 1510, and he had been assisted in many of his duties by his son, Gioffre, who had been a mere deacon before being hastily promoted all the way to bishop by his father in 1507[5]. The last six years of Alexander’s pontificate had been derisively nicknamed the ‘Corpse Pontificate’, as he steadfastly refused to abdicate despite his increasingly worsening state. It was an open secret that the cardinals were already beginning to debate who ought to succeed him, even as lay alive, albeit vegetablized, in the Apostolic Palace. The presence of Gioffre as the one who was actually pulling the strings was borderline heresy, and while many of the cardinals were infuriated by this, they declined to have him bumped off, as was the trend in contemporary Italian politics. Instead, they had a general agreement amongst themselves; no matter whom they elected next, it would not be a Borgia or even anyone vaguely-related to the Borgias. Of course, Alexander’s brood weren’t exactly known for respecting Papal institutions, so the cardinals encouraged Gioffre to send Cesare, who was the only member of the family who was a halfway decent general, off to Urbino to campaign against the de’Medicis there. When Alexander finally kicked the bucket while Cesare and his army were away, the cardinals rushed to form a conclave. However, they couldn’t decide who to elect. Guiliano della Rovere, who was considered the favorite, had the misfortune to also die three days into the conclave, leaving the election splintered between various factions. A dozen ballots were voted down in less than a month, as the cardinals grew increasingly panicked as word of Cesare’s intention to install his cousin, Pedro Luis, as Pope. Finally, on 23 December 1516, they elected Antonio Trivulzio as Pope.

    Trivulzio was in his early fifties, the scion of a patrician family from Milan. At this point, he was best known for his burning hatred for the French, due in part to his forced exile from Milan at their hand in the 1490s[6]. He had been a member of the Milanese diplomatic corps, actually becoming the ambassador between Milan and Parma in the 1480s. He was the first auditor of the Papal treasury from 1477 to 1482, during which time he earned a reputation for extreme honesty and a hatred for simony. He was the Bishop of Como in northern Italy from 1487, and was promoted to cardinal in 1500 at the behest of Alexander VI. In 1503, he led a Papal fleet against the Barbary Corsairs, capturing the pirate base of Bejaia in a surprise attack, burning the Barbary galleys in the harbor and then freeing several thousand prisoners. He oversaw the installation of a Papal garrison in the port and was its governor from 1504 to 1508, but was forced to abandon the city after a Zayyanid siege. Upon returning to Rome, he was an outspoken opponent of the French and, more quietly, the corruption and decadence of the Borgias. All of this made him an excellent candidate for the pope, and after several weeks he and his partisans won over the rest of the conclave. Upon being elected, he took the Papal name Hyginus II, after an obscure second-century pope[7].

    Hyginus immediately sprung into action, assembling a motley host of mercenaries and levies from the region around Rome before winter ended. He also sends a number of embassies to his neighbors, most notably Urbino and Florence, asking for help repulsing the Borgias, who are the sworn enemies of both. The Florentines reject him, but the Urbinites agree to help as soon as they can. His total host numbers only 4,000, but when Cesare descends from the Apennines the following spring, he is shocked to find such a host assembled so quickly. Cesare is concerned that Hyginus has the backing of foreign powers, and so dispatches an embassy to contact Louis and ask for his backing to install Pedro Luis as Pope. He has good relations with the French, and so expects that Louis will agree swiftly. Hyginus catches wind of this and reacts swiftly. He sent embassies to Florence, Urbino, Modena, Venice, Calvi, all the Italian states that would oppose a Borgia Papacy. The former four all send delegations to Rome that spring, and after a great deal of negotiations (especially with the Florentines), Hyginus declares the creation of the Marian League on 3 April[7]. The express intention of the Marian League is to protect the right of the Papacy to select pontiffs, but the subtext is clearly anti-French. The Marian states mobilize for war. On 17 April, a French envoy arrives in Rome, nominally there on a mission to improve relations. In truth, the emissary, Guy de Sully, has been sent to 'persuade' the conclave to elect Pedro Luis, as evidenced by the several hundred mercenaries that he has brought with him. Hyginus, recognizing this as the attempt to force him out of power that it clearly is, bars the gates of the city and refuses entry to anyone but Sully and a few of his guards, who reluctantly accepts and enters the city in such a manner, meeting with Hyginus in a quiet room in the Vatican Palace. What happened next is unknown, but Hyginus claimed that after a long argument the notoriously hot-tempered Guy swung at him, which Hyginus dodged. As guards flooded into the room, de Sully 'accidentally' cracked his head against the wall and died. When word of this reached the mercenaries outside the city, they attacked one of the gates and were driven back with heavy casualties, sparking the War of the Three Leagues.

    [1] Good fortune means that Savonarola is able to depose the de’Medici before he can be excommunicated, allowing him to transform Florence into the above mentioned theocracy.
    [2] Historically, this was the Duchy of Ferrara and Modena, but Ferrara was annexed by the Venetians, which was then annexed in turn by the French, who firmly but politely refused to return it. Instead, they gave Parma over to the Modenese, thus the duchy’s official name of ‘Modena, Emilia and Parma’.
    [3] This is an allohistorical Anna who was born ten years before the historical Anna.
    [4] This is the Habsburg rump state
    [5] At this time, one did not have to be a priest to become a bishop, and so Gioffre had his marriage annulled, was invested as bishop, then undertook holy orders.
    [6] This is alternate history, caused by the difference in the Italian Wars. He will also be much longer-lived in this timeline.
    [7] ‘Hyginus’ means ‘The Clean One’, and so was chosen both as a denouncement of the degeneracy and simony of the Borgia Era.
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    Part XL: The War of the Three Leagues in Italy (1517-1523)
  • Eparkhos

    Sorry, no time for question responses tonight. I might not post tomorrow, these things are an utter female dog to write.

    Part XL: The War of the Three Leagues in Italy (1517-1523)

    The War of the Three Leagues has been described by some as the ‘War of the Leagues of Italy and the War of the Leagues of Germany and the Low Countries’. This may be true, and it certainly is an accurate reflection of the regional nature of the war. There were four theaters of the war--Germany, Iberia, Italy and the war at sea--but the two most important by far were Germany and Italy, and there was next to no overlap in combatants between the two regions, other than the obvious participation of France in both. As such, in order to give an accurately and timely description of this oh-so important war, Italy, Germany and the other fronts must all be described individually, in as much detail as circumstances will allow.

    As previously mentioned, the chief combatants in Italy were the Marian League--consisting of Modena, the Papal States loyal to Hyginus II, Urbino, Tuscany[1] and Venice--and the League of Verona--consisting of France, the Kingdom of Lombardy and the city-states that were vassals thereof, the Papal States loyal to the Borgias, Savona and Naples. Neither were especially well prepared upon the outbreak of war--with the very large exception of Tuscany--and so the campaigns of 1517 can be described as a scramble to take the field first and steal a tempo[2] from the enemy.

    The first battles of the war were fought north and west of Rome itself, as Hyginus and Cesare Borgia struggled for control over the Holy See itself. Cesare had a much better force in terms of both quality and quantity, while Hyginus had a not inconsiderable number of fanatics on his side and access to the Papal coffers, which would allow him to raise a mercenary host with great speed if left unmolested. As such, Cesare knew he had to drive Hyginus from Rome as soon as possible, and Hyginus knew that Cesare would attempt to do just that. For several days, the armies of the two magnates skirmished in the fields north of Rome, both trying to control the heights to the west of the city that would allow Cesare to reign hell down upon those below. However, the desperation that fired Cesare would prove to be his undoing. On 4 May, a gap appeared in Hyginus’ lines near the Black Forest of Latium, and Borgia forces charged into it in an attempt to role up the Pope’s lines. This was not, in fact, the tactical blunder which Cesare believed it to be but instead was a carefully-laid trap. The Borgia army was cut in half and isolated in two ravines, in which they were slaughtered without mercy by the deputy of the Prince of Peace. Cesare was one of the few not killed, instead being throne into the Papal dungeon to rot.

    With the immediate threat neutralized, Hyginus turned to mobilizing and meeting the less immediate but still pressing threat to his south. Naples was in a personal union with France and its viceroy, the Count of Guise[3], had raised an army and marched on Rome as soon as word of the Marian League reached him. The Neapolitan host was quite large and was headed right for Rome, and it appeared as if Hyginus was up a creek. Thinking quickly, the Pope made contact with a monk named Thomas of Calabria. Thomas was a reformist priest in the vein of Savonarola, and during his decades-long service to the faith he had converted thousands of Neapolitans, noble and commoner alike, to his sect, called the Deuservii[4]. Alexander VI had attempted to outlaw the Deuservii to no avail, and so Thomas was no friend of the Borgias or their allies. Hyginus offered to host a church council to adopt some of the Deuservii’s ideas if they slowed the Neapolitan advance, and Thomas leapt at the opportunity to secure official support. The Count of Guise was found dead a few days later, having ‘choked in his sleep’, and after his unfortunate passing the Neapolitan host shattered, as Deuservus noblemen led entire contingents off to God only knows where. However, Naples still remained a threat, and so Hyginus wrote to Ferdinand III of Aragon, who was a young and eager ruler[5], and offered to restore the Crown of Naples to the Aragonese if they would only come and take it from the French. Ferdinand too leapt at the opportunity, and within a few months Guise’s successor was dealing with a Deuservii revolt and an Aragonese invasion, which would knock Naples out of the war indefinitely.

    Further north, Tuscany was leading the charge against the Lombards. One of Savonarola’s closest students and the Tuscan secretary of war, Niccolo Machiavelli, had been tasked with leading a host of 15,000 men into the Po Valley to establish a buffer zone to protect Tuscany while more forces were mobilized[6]. This he did quite well, driving off a Lombard strike against Parma by the Vicomte of Saluzzo and reducing several fortresses across Romagna, helping the Modense take Bologna and reducing a half-dozen fortresses south of the Po with his considerable siege train. He attempted to take both Piacenza and Cremona but failed. He decisively defeated another Lombard host led by the French viceroy, Pierre Terrail, at the Battle of Pontenure in late May, but was unable to take Piacenza from the remnants of Terrail’s force despite several months of bombardment. Cremona too remained steadfast, its defenders repulsing several attempts to cross the Po and sending at least two very expensive cannons to the bottom of the river. Machiavelli retired into Modense territories that winter. The Modenese, under Alfonso d’Este, had also been hard at work, reducing Rimini and Ravenna alongside the Urbinites, and aiding the Venetians in their long and bloody siege of Ferrara, which controlled the lower part of the Po Plain. Finally, on 24 November, Ferrara was taken by an army under the personal command of Loredan, the Doge, but it was too late in the year to make strategic use of it.

    The French themselves were notably absent during the 1517 campaign season, as a sizeable peasant revolt in Occitane had drawn off Louis XII and much of his army. The young king, however, was determined to make up for lost time in 1518, and in late March he and a host of some 25,000 men descended onto the Italian plain at Ivrea. They raced down the Po Valley with surprising speed, sufficiently spooking Machiavelli into withdrawing back into Tuscany, and reliving the hard-pressed Piacenza and installing a fresh garrison. Then, the French continued moving down the south bank of the Po, ravaging the lands of Modena as punishment for the breaking of their ancient alliance. Parma, Modena and Bologna were all fired upon and the lands around them devastated with fire and sword, while Regio was outright taken due to the actions of a duplicitous burgher. The Reggians had never been very fond of the Modense, and so Louis allowed them to massacre their Modense rulers to satisfy their bloodlust and ensure their loyalty to the French cause in Italy. After taking Reggio, he continued moving. The Urbinites fled into the hills as the French advanced, choosing dishonor over death, while the Modense and the Venetians withdrew across the Po itself. Louis laid siege to Ferrara, while hurried fortifying and gun-smithing had turned into the second most heavily-fortified city in Italy second only to the great fortress city of Italy. However, after several days, Louis decided his time was better spent elsewhere and left the siege camps outside of the city, leaving behind a few thousand men and a great number of cannons to keep up the siege. Then he crossed the Po west of Île-de-Roi, a heavily fortified river island that kept the Venetians from sailing further upriver, and moved to pursue the Venetians and the Modense, who were caught completely off-guard. Despite the heroic bravery of the Venetian rearguard, the French were able to force a crossing of the Adige and caught up with the retreating Marians at the small village of Agna, on 23 July 1518.

    The Battle of Agna was more of a massacre than a battle. The primarily mercenary hosts of the Marians were completely demoralized, while the French and Lombards were incredibly confident. Loredan led the Venetians from the front, giving them a somewhat effectively morale boost, but the complete cowardice of the Modenese reduced this. The two armies lined up on the north bank of the Adige, the French occupying the Veronan right and center, and the Lombards the left. The Marians deployed the Venetians on the left and the center, while the Modenese were deployed on the right. The hope was that the weaker Lombards would be less effective against the weak Modenese, but the opposite happened. As soon as battle was joined, a steady line of Frenchmen advanced silently in their shining armor on a bright summer day, hitting the Venetians head-on. Then, the Lombards, many of whom had had their homes despoiled by the Marians, charged forward and went through the Modenese like a sledgehammer through wet tissue paper. The Venetian center was suddenly pincered and they collapsed, streaming from the field and being ridden down by the French and the Lombards. More than ten thousand Marian soldiers were dead for less than 3,000 Veronese, and the sheer morale blow of the battle was crippling.

    After Agna, the French and Lombards spread out across the plains, laying siege to and taking more than two dozen cities and fortresses, a mixture of Venetian, formerly Lombard and Modenese. Parma, Bologna and Rovigo were all taken without a fight, while Modena and Ferrara were ground down into the Renaissance versions of Stalingrad before the besieging commanders decided it was best to just try and wait them out. By the end of the year, the French and the Lombards controlled the vast majority of the lowlands, the only failures being at the two aforementioned sieges and the Battle of Sarsina, where a Lombard probing force was given a bloody nose by an Urbinite army under the command of the Duke himself, ---- de’Medici.

    After a brief hiatus, fighting resumed in the spring of 1519. Modena had been effectively crippled, but the other Marian states had finally reached their stride and would be more than capable of picking up the slack. Tuscany and the Papal States had both mobilized most of their levies, albeit while leaving substantial reserves, and Urbino had completed the assembly of its mixed citizen and mercenary army over the winter of 1518 and 1519. The Venetians, meanwhile, were rapidly reassembling their almost entirely mercenary army; as will be touched on in the section about the war at sea, the Savonese were incapable of operating east of the Straits of Messina, and so La Serenissima was able to keep her trade routes to Egypt open and thus her coffers full. Louis does not seem to have realized this, for that spring he dispatched 10,000 soldiers from his 35,000 strong host (by now a motley mixture of Frenchmen and Lombards) under Gaston de Foix to reinforce the defenders of Paris.This left him with only 40,000 men--his own host, plus the armies besieging Ferrara and Modena, as well as detachments helping the Savonese defend against Tuscan raiding in Liguria--against the 60,000 men of the coalition.

    After spending several more weeks bashing his head against the heavily pock-marked walls of Ferrara, Louis decided to attack Tuscany, hoping to take the fight to the enemy heartlands and draw pressure from the Savonese. He and his personal army marched south into the Apennine passes south of Bologna. The king had hoped to keep this march at least somewhat quiet, but he had underestimated, as so many northerners had before, the loyalty the people of Italy felt to the Pope. Hyginus was informed by his network of spies of the Franco-Lombard path and concluded that there was only one destination they could possible have in mind; Florence. He personally led an army of 15,000 men north to help defend the city, joining the 20,000 men Machiavelli had already mustered. The two armies camped at the small town of Calenzano, near the mouth of the passes, cannons dug in and pointing at the mouth of the slot.

    On 22 May, Louis and his army arrived, pouring out of the pass under heavy fire. They formed up on the plains below the pass as the king tried to organize a combined assault on the ridge and the forces positioned there, but any units that advanced were absolutely shredded as every cannon turned to fire upon them. Finally, after more than 10,000 Frenchmen and Lombards had assembled, Louis concluded his only options were withdrawal or an all-out assault to take the ridge. He chose the latter, and at noon precisely the assault began. Thousands of soldiers stormed across the by now blood-stained fields and up the ridge, cannons carving long trails through them but failing to halt their desperate advance. The leading edge of this wave rolled up the hill and into the lines of Hyginus and his soldiers, standing in close formation at the spine of the ridge. The wall of advancing swords and maces slammed into their pike hedge, corpses being spitted by the sheer number of men hurtling themselves forward. Overwhelmed, the Papal forces began to waver, and it seemed as if the mercenary-based force might break and flee. But then, over the spine of the ridge, came the Tuscans, who had been occupied taking mass[7]. With the Florentines behind them, Hyginus and his men turned back the oncoming tide. After several hours, Louis was forced to sound a retreat. The Franco-Lombards fell back into the pass, then eventually pulled back entirely.

    Calenzano had the potential to be a crushing victory for the Marians, but they failed to follow it up. Hyginus and his army were too exhausted to give chase, while Machiavelli feared that he could be outmaneuvered in the warren of passes and valleys that made up the spine of the Apennines. As such, they were content to allow the French to withdraw and regroup on the plains. The Urbinites made several raids against the exposed French flank, even managing to resupply the garrison of Ferrara in a fly-by-night attack. However, de’Medici feared drawing attention to his small principality while the Tuscans and the Pope were unable or unwilling to support him. He would no longer have to be worried about this after the middle of July, however, as that was when Padua, which the Venetians had managed to hold despite nearly a year of siege, fell. Louis and his army immediately poured into Terrafirma, ravaging the country and confining the Venetians into their castles and fortresses, many of which were taken easily or pounded into submission. Louis went so far as to even fire on Venice itself from the mainland, and although the cannonballs all fell short, it succeeded in putting the fear of God into the Serene Republic. Louis spent the rest of the year prowling Terrafirma, looking for a way across the few scant miles of water which separated Venice from the mainland, and during his absence Hyginus and Machiavelli resumed offensives in the west. In early September, the Third Battle of Genoa[8] resulted in a Tuscan breakthrough, and Machiavelli was now in a position to effectively skewer Alessandria and Savona, forcing the Lombards to leave one to be taken.

    Unfortunately for the Marians, Machiavelli would never be able to make this skewer. Louis and his army force-marched through a surprisingly mild winter to reach the Piedmont. Machiavelli was forced to abandon his winter camp and withdraw eastwards out of Liguria, effectively ceding the field to the numerically superior Franco-Lombard force. Rather than giving chase, Louis then set up his own winter quarters in the by-now completely moonscaped ruins of the former Third City of Italy, planning to resume the offensive the next spring. In his absence from the east, the Urbinites once again took the field, breaking the siege of Ferrara for a second time and providing cover for Giulio d’Este, the commander of Modena, to make a breakout and flee up into the Apennines.

    In the spring of 1520, Louis broke camp again and resumed the offensive. He gravely needed to break the back of the Marian League soon, because the war in Italy and the ongoing fighting in Germany and in Iberia was draining his coffers at an alarming rate. The Lombard peasantry were also getting uppity, as many of them had had their homes and livelihoods devastated for a war they had no stake in. There was also the more pressing problem of a lack of conscripts and supplies, which was greatly hampering his war effort. The Marians, on the other hand, were also beginning to tire, but were doing far better, as the Venetian and Urbinite money-lenders had the prospect of French conquest and/or eternal damnation to worry about if they tried to call in debts.

    After breaking camp, Louis and his force threaded through the hills and mountains of Liguria. He knew that Machiavelli would be watching the coast roads, and knew that if his plan were to work then he could not be caught out on the coastal plain. The trek was long and arduous, but after two weeks the Franco-Lombards emerged into the valley of the Magra River, the western edge of Tuscany. More importantly, they were behind Machiavelli and his army, with only Hyginus’ 10,000 men, who Louis outnumbered by 2:1, between him and Florence. Louis at once began force-marching towards Florence, Machiavelli’s surprised army racing behind him in hopes that they could intercept the French king before he reached their capital. The rule of Savonarola and his followers had been exceptionally cruel and dictatorial outside of Florence, where the number of supporters was much lower, and so as the French advanced the more libertine cities began to revolt, welcoming the French as their liberators. Lucca in particular was joyful, expelling their Tuscan garrison and hoisting the fleur-de-lis above their battlement. Bands of volunteers joined the Franco-Lombard column as it marched, driving its numbers even further higher. It seemed as if Hyginus and his army would be crushed.

    But they would not. Hyginus knew the lay of the land, and he knew where the best place to make his stand was, namely at the pass of Serravalle, where the roads to Florence crossed the last mountain range between the city and Tuscany at large. When Louis and his army arrived at the pass in early June, they found Hyginus and his army dug in across the roads, dozens of cannons levelled at them and a wall of pikes several thousand strong facing them down. After a failed assault, Louis pulled back and tried to circle around towards one of the other roads, only to run into Machiavelli and the Tuscan army, who had been delayed by putting Lucca to the sword for their treason[9]. The Marians had the Franco-Lombards pincered, and all three commanders knew it. Louis broke off a rearguard, then bolted southwards, hoping to escape from the closing trap. Hyginus and Machiavelli hurtled after him, pursuing the fleeing king all the way to the valley of the Arno, then down that river towards the sea. All three armies were run ragged in their flight and pursuit, so much so that all three hosts lost soldiers to exhaustion and heatstroke. Finally, Louis reached safety at Livorno[10], which had been captured and held by the Savonese back in 1518. However, there was not enough space for all the men in the army to shelter within it until they could be sealifted away, and so Louis turned to do battle with the Tuscans, who were the closest of the two pursuing armies. The resulting battle was a bloody affair, the two armies remaining rigidly in position until Hyginus and his army appeared on their flank, forcing Louis and his men to flee back to Livorno. Those who could not make it in scattered and fled in all directions, most of them being ridden down by the Tuscans in the following days.

    Over the next few weeks, the Savonese evacuated Louis and his surviving men back to Liguria and Provence. While the king and at least part of his army had escaped, their morale was utterly broken and Louis knew he would be unable to campaign again that season.

    The Marians, however, had no such handicap. With Louis withdrawn from Italy indefinitely, they went into a bonanza. During the rest of 1520, the Marians campaigned against the Lombards from all directions. The Venetians managed to reconquer most of Terrafirma[11], while the Urbinites drove the French and the Lombards out of Romagna proper, moving into Modense territory and beginning the liberation of those lands. The Tuscans, meanwhile, resumed their offensives in Liguria, retaking Genoa and several other important ports, such as La Spezia and Rapallo. The Savonese put up a good fight, but they were too few in numbers to stem the rising tide. These offensives continued in 1521 as well, unchecked due to the worsening situation in France proper. The Lusitanians, whose strategic goals no longer made a strong France, allied or no, a desirable state of being, had turned against their former allies and were in the process of overrunning the Pyreneees. Louis was now occupied dealing with that, and could spare fewer and fewer resources to the War in Italy. By the end of 1521, Alessandria was under siege, Cremona and Piacenza had both been taken by the Marians and the lower half of the Po Valley had been cut off in its entirety. Verona was under siege and seemed to be on the verge of falling, and it was clear that Milan would be next.

    And so, Louis, ever the gambler, had bet everything on one last throw of the dice. He had managed to scrape together a force of some 11,000 men in early 1522, almost the entirety of his reserves. He managed to persuade the doge of Savona, Francesco della Rovere, to provide a fleet to him, on the promise of exorbitant wealth after the war. More than sixty galleys were brought together at Savona as the final army was prepared for transport. Louis’ last hope was a direct assault on Rome itself. He hoped to land this force at Ostia, only a few miles from Rome, and march on the Eternal City itself, subsequently breaking the back of the Marian League and looting the curia treasuries. How delusional this was is a matter of speculation, but if things had gone perfectly then it is possible this bold plan may have succeeded.

    But, of course, it did not. Word of this had leaked out and a Venetian fleet that had been bound to blockade Savona was reinforced with La Serenissima’s Sicilian squadron, putting together a force of nearly forty galleys. This fleet was waiting for the Savonese as they rounded Elba, striking into their flank with shocking force and sending several heavily-laden transports to the bottom. The Savonese moved to counter this, of course, the transports breaking off and turning west while the warships turned to meet their attackers. But then, as the two squadrons slammed into each other, the other shoe dropped. Two dozen Calvian galleys sailed out from behind a nearby isle, bristling with guns. The opportunity to make tremendous gains in what was clearly such a one-sided war had roused the Calvians to abandon their isolation, and now they fell upon their archrivals with a relish. Within an hour of the battle starting, only eight of the Savonese galleys were still afloat, running for open water where they may be able to shake off their pursuers. The rest were either sunk, in the process of sinking, or run aground on Elba or one of the surrounding isles. All in all, several thousand soldiers and even more sailors had been killed[12].

    With the destruction of the Elba Expedition, the War of the Three Leagues was effectively over in Italy. The morale of French and Lombard forces absolutely collapsed, and most of the fortresses which they had so long held were abandoned without a fight, their defenders slipping away into the countryside to defend their homes and families. Only Milan and Turin held out by the end of 1522; the former because its commander, Terrail, refused to surrender without explicit orders from the king himself, and the latter because it had become the rallying point for the small number of soldiers who believed that they were much better off than they actually were and that Taillerdupierre’s counter-attack would turn the war around any second now. It was clear to any sane man that the war was over, but Louis refused to admit this, no matter how obvious it became. Finally, on 16 January 1523, Louis XII was killed by an arquebusier at Figueres; peace followed his death a few weeks later.

    [1] I misspoke in the previous update; Savonarola’s state was not the Florentine Republic but rather the Tuscan Republic, whose capital was Florence.
    [2] This is a chess term that was popular in academic histories several decades ago. It essentially means to be able to move without your opponent being able to match you.
    [3] His proper name was Louis d’Armagnac, but there are too many Frenchmen named Louis in this story, and so I will use his official title instead.
    [4] Latin for ‘Slaves of God’.
    [5] Ferdinand III was the posthumous son of Juan, Duke of Menorca, the son of Ferdinand II. His grandfather had managed to cling to life long enough to pass the throne directly to his grandson, then died a broken man in 1516. As with most young rulers, Ferdinand was eager to prove himself and hoped to achieve the ambitions of several Aragonese rulers and reclaim Naples.
    [6] Remember, the Tuscans were hyper-militarist millinerians who believed they would be called upon to fight the armies of the devil with next to no warning, and so they were always ready for war at a moment’s notice.
    [7] It’s quite ironic that the Papal armies were willing to fight without mass while the Tuscans were not, but it’s always possible Hyginus had given mass the night before.
    [8] Genoa and its burned but still-standing fortifications had become quite the point of contention between the two armies, and it had been subject to near constant bombardment from both sea and land.
    [9] This was shocking to many in this highly Christian world, and the Lucca Massacre would become workhorse of the early propaganda departments active in France during this war.
    [10] ATL Livorno’s fortifications were built much earlier by the paranoid Savonarola, who feared that they would have to be used in a war with the pope.
    [11] That is, the mainland territory which they had held before the war began.
    [12] This was included here and not in the section about the war in the sea because of its direct relevance to the conclusion of the War in Italy.
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    Part XLI: The War of the Three Leagues in the Low Countries
  • Eparkhos

    I would like to preface this chapter that I have spent a grand total of twenty-one hours writing and rewriting it. Quite frankly, I think it's terrible, but I'm just tired of trying to rewrite it, so here it is. I expect that there'll be a good deal of criticism, and I'll probably do a final rewrite sometime in the future. I'm just done with it rn.

    Part XLI: The War of the Three Leagues in the Low Countries

    The war opened in Germany and the Low Countries nearly a full year after fighting began in Italy. Word of the war in Italy had roused the Munsterians to arms, but while Edward, Bogislaw and Philip were all ready for war, the minor states were unwilling to potentially kick a hornet’s nest with the possibility of a swift French victory in the south still a serious prospect. Bowing to their allies’ trepidations, an offensive was postponed until the following year to give time for greater mobilization and to see how the chips fell in Lombardy. Edward took the liberty of raiding the Scottish borderlands and sacking Dumfries in 1517, however, hoping to keep the Scottish from threatening his rear while he campaigned on the Continent. James IV had recently died of an unknown disease, and so the Scots were willing to back down with their French allies otherwise engaged.

    By the spring of 1518, it seemed as if the Marians would soon win a swift victory over Louis and his allies, and the Munsterians had completed their mobilizations, raising a motley host of knights, mercenaries and levied infantry. After a last series of checks and preparations, Philip declared himself independent of France, a feudatory of Bogislaw and a member of the Munsterian League on 16 April, bringing the third league into the War of the Three Leagues. They were in a fairly good position, effectively forming a wall against the French along the Rhine and the Low Countries, with the English extending this dragnet out into the North Sea. The only flaw in this was the Duchy of Brunswick, which lay in the heart of Germany and whose duke had decided upon the borderline suicidal path of standing by his ally. The total forces of the Munsterian League so far outnumbered those of France that it would take effort to lose, as Edward remarked in 1517. And so, they did.

    The Munsterian offensives of 1518 were almost laughably weak. There were French garrisons scattered across the Rhinemouths, and several of these had managed to close themselves off in fortresses before they could share the fate of their forebears in the Bruges Matins. As such, Philip was forced to devote forces to besieging these hold-outs, which ate up lots of valuable time and resources, especially the use of their limited cannonade. Philip was an inexperienced commander and general, and so was unable to exploit the opportunity presented by French weakness in the region. That summer, Philip made a push south with some 15,000 men--not even half of what the could muster on paper--into Picardy, laying siege to Amiens and Cambrai. He was met by a French army under Louis de la Tremoille, who had been left behind with a small force to put down a peasant rising in Normandy. De la Tremoille proved to be a far more capable commander than anyone knew, and he was able to fight the Rhinemouthers to a draw at the Battle of Dury. However, Philip was able to withdraw in good order, and once de la Tremoille had to turn and move eastwards, he was able to lay siege to the city once again and take it after a few weeks, securing all of Picardy by the end of August and moving further south to lay siege to Beauvois that autumn, although he was unable to reduce it until the middle of winter, when it was far too late to make good use of this windfall.

    De la Trémoille was forced to quit Amiens due to the advances that were being made in the east by other Munsterian forces. The minor states of the alliance had marshalled a surprisingly large force of nearly 15,000 between them, the chief players being the Duke of Lorraine, Jean, and the Duke of Wurttemberg, Ulrich. Naturally, Jean and Ulrich utterly despised each other, fighting frequently and bitterly over who was the superior commander and often refusing to have anything to do with each other, regardless of how badly this was crippling their war effort. Jean favored a direct attack against Paris, seeing it as a way to knock the French out of the war immediately and decisively, while Ulrich favored a slow advance into enemy territories, believing that marching directly against the capital would only get them surrounded and massacred. Neither of them was willing to compromise in the slightest, and so Jean stormed out of the joint camp in mid-July, marching directly against Paris with a Lorrainer, Strasburgian and Trierian army numbering some 6,000. Of course, this was noticed by the French, and de la Tremoille rushed to intercept them while the Munsterian army was weakened. The French fell upon the Lorrainers and their confederates at the village of Vezy, just south of Reims, and shattered them, killing several hundred and putting the rest to disorganized flight. The French then pulled back to Senlis, from which they could intercept an attack on Paris from either direction, and waited for reinforcements.

    By 1519, the Brunswickers had finally been put down and the Pomeranian-Brandenburgers prepared to march to join the other Munsterians. However, they would be draw off by a massive peasant’s revolt in Franconia that year, and so would be unable to join the fray. A worse fate befell the English force that sailed for the continent that spring, being caught in a nasty storm just out of Portsmouth that sunk most of the fleet and sent the few survivors beating back towards the land. As such, Philip and Ulrich were left to continue their advances into the north of France. With Beavois taken after a grueling siege and more forces freed up by the reduction of most of the French garrisons, Philip launched a strike at Paris itself, moving with surprising speed towards the enemy capital. However, de la Tremoille managed to scramble and intercept the Rhinemouther army at Creil, just across the Aisne from Paris. Philip attempted to force a crossing, but was beaten back by the steadfast defenders. Having lost several hundred men to no avail, Philip established a siege camp around the fortress city, blasting away at it in hopes of pounding the bastions into submission. However, this was in fact a ruse, intended to keep de la Tremoille and his forces in place while he searched for another crossing. Rhinelander scouts ranged along the Aisne and the Seine for hundreds of miles, searching for a place to ford the river. At long last, one of Philip’s scouts reported that the city of Rouen, who stood astride the Seine, was almost entirely unguarded. A few nights later, most of the Rheinlander force abandoned the siege, leaving behind enough men to keep the cannons firing and the campfires burning, this deceiving the French into believing that they were still present. It took two days for de la Tremoille to notice that something was up, and by the time he realized where Philip had gone, it was too late to cut him off.

    Sixteen days later, on 24 June, Philip and his army emerged from the fog of war at Rouen. The city’s garrison was caught flatfooted and surrendered after a Rhinemouther cannonade demolished one of the towers along the city walls. Philip made a rushed crossing, installing a fairly large garrison, and emerged onto the southern bank of the Seine after more than a year of failed attempts. He kept up his lightning-quick pace as he turned and marched towards Paris, hoping to reach the capital and finally put an end to things before they got worse. A great shining mass of men was seen force-marching along the banks of the Seine, flying straight as an arrow towards the beating heart of France. De la Tremoille, of course, got word of this and moved to intercept, fearing that he may be too late to stop the fall of the capital, given that he only had a few thousand men. He pulled soldiers from the garrisons of every castle in the region except Criel and Paris itself, managing to raise some 12,000 men within a few weeks. He moved to intercept the Rhinemouthers at the last possible moment, near the small village of Epone only a day’s march from Paris.

    The two armies met on the banks of Seine. The Rhinemouthers held the high ground, standing atop a slight rise, but they were exhausted due to weeks of hasty maneuvering, while the French were fresh and filled with the morale of desperation. Philip’s force was still in marching formation, and de la Tremoille, knew that he had to keep the Rhinemouthers from deploying in battle formation, because then they would be able to outflank and eventually encircle his army. As such, he gave the order to attack as dawn rose on 2nd September, even as a light rain soaked the men in their armor and weapons as they assembled upon the field. It is almost impossible to keep an army silent, and so Tremoille didn’t even try, advancing every unit individually, as soon as it was able to move. The bulk of the French were thrown against the head of the Rhinemouther column, which they caught off guard and unprepared. The French began to make headway, pressing in against the defenders in ever greater numbers as the sun rose into their eyes. However, their focus on the head of the column left the rest of the formation in passable condition, and battalions rapidly began to swing out from the road, rushing forward to try and meet the French before they could pin them down. At a certain point, fighting along the bank turned into a madhouse as fog descended, Rhinemouther killing Rhinemouther and Frenchman Frenchman as the fog and the wind made the shouts and screams of their companions unintelligible, entire units descending into fratricidal struggles as they became separated and joined together under bad circumstances. This was purely an infantry battle, a slow grind of hand-to-hand as the two formations threw themselves at each other, with none of the gallant cavalry charges which later depictions gave to it. At some point, de la Tremoille himself was killed, likely by an arrow or a bullet, but no-one knows for sure. The fighting spilled out towards the west, battalions frantically racing to cut off their enemies before they could encircle them, forming a crude and entirely unplanned battle-line stretching for more than a mile through the misty trees and fields. Thousands of men died, their blood staining the ground red and littering the field with the bodies of the dead and dying. Along the river bank in particular were the most corpses, in some places piling up so the survivors fought on mounds of bodies several feet high, another man rushing to take the place of one cut down before falling in turn. After an hour, maybe two, the Rhinemouthers finally got their cannons into position and opened fire, sending grapeshot through a line of men equal parts their own and their enemy’s. The thunder of cannons drowned out all other sounds, firing at close range from only a few dozen yards behind the fighting, and ultimately the number and valor of the Rhinemouther gunners made itself apparent. After nearly four hours of fighting, the French began to be pushed back, the line of fighting driving past the great mess of corpses onto fresh land, as the western flank turned decisively in the Rhinemouthers’ favor. The French seemed to be on the verge of collapse, but then, from the west…

    The Portuguese standard appeared.

    Philip was forced to retreat across the Seine at Mantes, which he had captured only the day before. The Rhinemouthers beat a hasty retreat back to Picardy in shockingly good order, but the French did not pursue. Fernão Nunes Esteves da Veiga de Nápoles de Nandufe, the Portuguese commander, had been sent to help defend Paris and he would defend Paris to the last man. His orders stated that he was to prioritize the defense of Paris above all else, and so he refused to support de la Tremoille in any operations that took place more than a day’s march away from the capital. There was little the French commander could do but try and recover his losses as the Munsterians did the same with greater alacrity. By the end of the year, a greatly-reinforced Ulrich had managed to secure the left bank of the Moselle and would be in striking distance of the capital the following spring. De la Tremoille could muster only 11,000 men, not enough to meet him on the field. So, he knew that he had to hang back and defend Paris, so that the obstinate de Nandufe would actually do his job and help him.

    War resumed the following spring, Bogislaw and his host of 30,000 men finally making an appearance after sufficiently damaging the revolt to move forward and join the bloody fray. In early June, he and his army linked up with Ulrich’s east of Verdun, and after some persuading on the Emperor’s part, the two agreed to launch an assault on Paris, which seemed to be void of defenders, de la Tremoille having gone north to drive back Philip’s attack on Clermont-en-Aisne. Bogislaw and the other Germans made good use of this opportunity and drove directly towards Paris, their column drawing out along the road as the different contingents drew apart from each other due to their differing speeds. The Germans ravaged the land as they advanced, gathering what supplies they could on their quick march, and the procuring of food and drink was important enough for entire units to be split off to forage. Among these were the light cavalry that would under normal circumstances be leading the advance as scouts. With no French force in the region to oppose them, after all, why bother with pickets?

    In early May, the Germans marched through the village of Montmirail, surrounded on all sides by forests and lying between a pair of ridges. Bogislaw had retired to the back of the column to mediate a dispute between two of the Munsterian lords, and so the column advanced directly into this natural ambush point almost completely unaware. Once the middle of the column was in the ravine, the Lusitnians sprang from their ambuscade. De Nandufe was no fool, and while he intended to follow his orders to the letter, he recognized that the present circumstances required extraordinary methods to prevent the fall of Paris. And so, the Portuguese came thundering down the hill into the Munsterian flank, falling upon them like a thunderbolt. The center of the column shattered almost instantly, the front and the rear being cut off like the tails of a decapitated snake as the Lustinians butchered their comrades in the center of the battle lines. Ulrich and Bogislaw, who were in the front and the very rear, respectively, quickly realized what had happened and moved to regroup, Ulrich hoping to trap the Lustinians in their own trap and keep them from fleeing out of the valley. Before he could do this, de Nandufe had pulled back and vanished into the wilds around Montmirail, leaving the Munsterians to establish a defensive camp. They resumed their march towards Paris a few days later, under constant harassment from light cavalry and irregulars.

    A few weeks later, the Munsterians arrived at Paris. Bogislaw found no army waiting to fight a final desperate battle, and his scouts--he had corrected his previous mistake--ranging around Paris told him that there was no host waiting to ambush him. Sightly unnerved, the Holy Roman Emperor laid siege to Paris on 17 May, beginning to bombard the eastern walls of the city. He knew better than to try and assault the walls--there were more militiamen in the city than there were soldiers in his army, and attacking them on ground in their favor would just get more of his own men killed. However, he felt it was necessary to keep up the bombardment in hopes of causing a fire or otherwise damaging the city’s food reserves. Starvation would be the only way to reduce the city given the bad odds against him.

    Bogislaw was unknowingly pinning himself down around Paris, while the French and their allies desperately scrambled together a force. De la Tremoille had been successful in driving Philip back into Brabant, and his 10,000 men were now moving to link up with de Nandufe’s 10,000, as well as several thousand levies and militias who were organizing across loyal France. It seemed as if Louis had abandoned his homeland and his own seat of power for events in Lombardy, but de la Tremoille was still holding out for help, and in early June it arrived. Gaston de Foix, a young and well-distinguished commander who had won several upstart victories against the Marians in Italy, had been sent with 10,000 men to relieve Paris. Louis believed that he was on the verge of victory in Italy and would not allow the Munsterians to distract him and prevent him from achieving his expected breakthrough. However, he still acknowledged the severity of the situation and had sent de Foix with some of his best troops to help.

    On 26 June, the Battle of Paris began. The French and Lusitanians had mustered some 45,000 men of varying quality against the Munsterian force of nearly 40,000, hoping to break the siege of Paris and deal a fatal blow to the League all at once. The French cannons, raised to their positions atop the ridges east of the Munsterian camp, opened fire before the sun had even split the sky, pounding Bogislaw’s camp with shot and shell from a significant range, distracting them while the French too the field in ordered blocks. A solid line of heavy infantry stretched out before the enemy camp, the Lustinians in their center, marching towards them in rigid formation. De Foix commanded the cavalry, which was somewhere off to the side in the royal forests. The Munsterians scrambled into battle order, taken by surprise by the early morning assault. Bogislaw, to his credit leapt into action as soon as he was woken by the sound of guns, sending the most organized units to hold the line against the French and the Lusitanians while the rest of the army was organized. The French made contact with the guns firing just above their heads, moving in tight blocks towards the enemy. Poor lighting and the fog made it impossible to tell friend and foe apart, and so they had to stay in formation or risk being killed by their own comrades. The wall of pikes and arquebuses moved into the German lines like an oncoming tide in some places and erratically as a schizophrenic dog in others, different formations of varying quality moving at differing speeds. The Munsterians were able to hold formation but were gradually pushed back, unable to meet the upcoming wall in their confused state. More units and brigades were being swiftly rallied, and gradually the advance was halted as more men took the field. After half an hour of fighting, the French had advanced so far up the ridge where the Germans were camped that their own guns were now firing upon them, unaware of their rapid charge. De la Tremoille was killed when his head was so unkindly borrowed by a cannonball, and the French center began to waver. Bogislaw rallied his men and they began to push back, and the French center began to collapse. It seemed as if the Munsterians would be able to turn the tide of the battle, but then Foix and his cavalry thundered out of the forests and into the German left. Bogislaw was forced to pull back some of the new regiments to blunt this charge, and the opportunity to turn the tide was lost. The Munsterians made a fighting retreat towards the east as militia started to pour out from behind the walls like a swarm of bees, and after a day-long running battle they were able to escape into the nights. 12,000 Munsterians, 7,000 Frenchmen and 2,000 Lusitanians had been killed.

    Paris effectively turned the tide of the war in the north, as Foix and his forces took the offensive foot. Bogislaw was forced to retire eastwards behind the frontier which Ulrich had secured in previous campaign seasons, and Foix was determined to keep him there. Throughout the rest of 1520, the general led a series of daring cavalry raids against Munsterian forces in the region, crippling any attempt to muster more forces, ravaging the countryside in hopes of sparking peasant revolts, attacking merchants and their caravans to cripple trade and generally making the lives of the Munsterian subjects, and, by extension, their rulers, very unpleasant. Bogislaw was forced to devote forces to chasing after Foix to appease the men whose homes and farms were being burned, and by this method Foix was able to keep the Munsterians on the back foot for the rest of the year.

    In 1521, three major events happened; That spring, Edward landed in Normandy with 15,000 men, and Iberia, formerly Lusitania, declared war on France. de Nandufe, ever the stickler for honor and the rules, refused to attack the French until he had these orders confirmed and so withdrew under mutual agreement with Foix. Once he was gone, Foix moved to intercept the English, handing them a crushing defeat at Evreux that will be covered in its own appendix. With the English sent running back to the coast, he turned north once again, where Philip was on the offensive. Foix calculated that there were too many Rhinemouthers for him to be reasonably certain of a victory in a set-piece battle, and so he moved to drive them back by other means, embarking on his Great Raid.

    Foix and his highly mobile army punched through the small number of Rhinemouther forces guarding the lands around the Meuse, which Philip had left unmanned due to a perceived lack of threat. The French charged up the river at a break-neck pace, taking Namur by storm due to the ill-preparedness of its defenders, destroying anything of value within the city before abandoning it to keep moving. He next arrived in Liege, which was an unhappy subject of The Hague, which he stirred to revolt by proclaiming that the French would support the independence of the Prince-Bishop. With the Liegers now causing further chaos within the heartlands of the Rhinemouths by cutting the connection between Luxembourg and the rest of the Low Countries, he kept moving at his break-neck pace, taking and sacking Maastricht, and looking as if he were going to march on to Munster itself and attack the symbolic capital of the League. Instead, he turned about and raced down the Rhine, leaving the by-now great number of pursuing Rhinemouthers and Munsterians waiting for an attack that would never come in the Ruhr. Then he feinted again, threatening to run down the Moselle and attack Trier, which prompted Bogislaw to personally march to protect the Bishop-Elector and his land. He swung towards Mainz, forcing the city into a state of siege and devastating the lands around it, then forded the Rhine just north of Worms. He then ravaged the eastern bank of the great river, threatening Wurttemberg proper before withdrawing back over the river into Rhinemouther Sundgau. Here he fought the only battle of the raid at Belfort, where his tired troops managed to fight their way past a Lorrainer force and back into France proper, returning after an absence of more than five months. He succeeded in halting any further attacks in 1521, but had failed to inflict enough damage to prevent the war from resuming as before the coming year.

    1522 was hard-fought, as the walls began to close in from all directions. English forces landed all along the coast and there was little Foix could do to stop them. He managed to fend off another Rhinemouther strike at Paris at the Battle of Clermont in May, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. His manpower reserves were running low, as chronic debts made it impossible to raise anything other than peasant levies that were too slow and too weak to be of any use. He fought a defensive war with what forces were left to him, managing to hand the Munsterians a series of blood noses and small defeats, but these weren’t enough to halt the gradual collapse of French forces. From mid-1522, he sent multiple messages to Louis down in Aquitaine, beginning the king to sue for peace before he was overrun. Bogislaw could smell blood, and knew a speedy victory was within his grasp. Munsterian forces raided en masse in the lands south of Paris, utterly devastating the country in revenge for the destruction caused by the Great Raid. Foix, doing his best, tried to drive them off, but in doing so he fell into a trap similar to one of his own. Just as he had used fast cavalry tactics to distract the invaders from Paris, the invaders now used it to distract him from Paris. While he struggled to lift the siege of Orleans, Paris itself fell under a second siege, this time from a joint force of Rhinelanders, Munsterians and Englishmen, that lasted into the winter. Foix made a final attempt to lift the siege, mustering every soldier he had, but the cold and famine had so weakened them that they were soundly defeated at the Battle of Antony, which saw the French army shattered with several thousand dead.

    Finally, in January 1523, Louis was killed in battle with the Iberians. Peace came shortly after.
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    Part XLII: The War of the Three Leagues in Iberia
  • Eparkhos

    Part XLII: The War of the Three Leagues in Iberia

    As previously mentioned, the long-term strategic goals of the Lusitnaians were securing their northern and western frontiers so they could continue their crusade into Africa without having to worry about conflicts in Europe. One of their short-term aims was the crippling or annexation of Aragon and Navarra, whose continued existence south of the Pyrneees was a direct threat to their security, both by allowing a long-term rival to continue to exist and as a potential route for foreign soldiers to circumvent their mountain defenses. This desire was what had led Duerte into his alliance with Louis, although he considered it more of a temporary arrangement that could be altered to best benefit his realm at any time….

    Ferdinand III of Aragon had entered the war in mid-1517 at the behest of Hyginus II, raising a fleet of some forty transport ships and a host of 15,000 men[1] to invade Naples and secure his claim there. He landed without much resistance and swiftly defeated the few Neapolitans still loyal to Louis, his forces fanning out across the south of Italy throughout 1517 and 1518. Crucially, he was supported by the Deuservii, who aided and abetted his consolidation of the south. However, even with a fifth column of supporters aiding him, Ferdinand was unable to reduce several of the fortresses in the far south, which were held by diehard Neapolitans, desperate French or the remnants of the Epirote expeditionary force that had been sent late in 1517, only to have their homeland conquered in their absence. Ferdinand was forced to commit his forces to a series of long-term sieges of these hardpoints, especially Taranto and Crotone. Because of this, he had very few forces back home in Aragon proper, believing that the Lusitanians wouldn’t break the thirty-year peace of 1490, an arrangement which had allowed them both to improve their domestic situation and, more importantly for the ultra-Catholic Duerte, had been notarized by the Pope. As such, he left behind only a skeleton force to defend Aragon, along with the militias of the crownlands and a handful of mercenaries.

    Unfortunately for Ferdinand, Duerte would have no such scruples. In the winter of 1518, after news came of the shocking defeat of a Aragonese and Deuservii host by a much smaller French and Neapolitan army at Cicoria in September and after the Mediterranean became too rough to be navigable, thus trapping the Aragonese in Italy until the spring, the Lusitanians struck. Duerte himself led 10,000 men across the border near Caminreal, while two other columns of 10,000 also attacked in the north, into the Ebro Valley under de Nápoles de Nandufe and at Cofrentes under the elderly but very capable Gonzalo de Cordoba. Duerte hopes that this three-pronged assault would be able to swiftly overrun Aragonese defenses before reinforcements can arrive in the spring, and it is partially successful in this. The king himself is able to blast through the small force of Aragonese border guards and rush northwards towards Zaragoza, thus completing his half of the planned pincer, but de Nápoles de Nandufe gets bogged down fighting both the Navarese and the Aragonese border forces and is unable to advance to join him. In the south, meanwhile, de Cordoba managed to fight through the militias along the border, but upon arriving in Valencia finds it torn in civil strife between the city’s guilds and their royally-appointed governor, both of whom refuse to surrender out of fear of strengthening their rivals. Valencia and Zaragoza are both put to a siege that winter--Duerte’s army being too exhausted to try and take the city by storm--while advance forces are sent eastward to secure the passes over the mountains and trap the rest of the Aragonese on the eastern plain. The Duke of Najera, who had been left behind as regent for Ferdinand while he was in Italy, frantically tried to muster a force to drive back the invaders, managing to raise an army of about 12,000 composed of a strange mixture of regular soldiers, militiamen and mercenaries. However, he hesitated to engage before the campaign season of 1518 was ended by the onset of winter, as his defeat would leave Barcelona itself open to attack.

    Word of the invasion finally reached Ferdinand in late January 1519, having been carried by secret messengers all the way from Aragon itself along the shores of the Mediterranean. He had managed to quelch the breakout from Cretone, but was still forced to commit a sizable portion of his forces to keep up the siege against both it and the other holdouts scattered across southern Italy. While he was still young and inexperienced, he was not a fool and realized how much of a threat the Lusitanian invasion posed to him. He ordered his dispersed army to regroup while every ship available to him mustered at Naples.

    This was a fatal mistake. Duerte knew that speedy victory hinged on his ability to keep the Aragonese in Naples, and he had dispatched a fleet of more than sixty ships (68, to be precise) to blockade them there as soon as the Mediterranean had calmed in March. Two months later, this fleet sailed into sight of Naples, where they found, much to their shock, not the small and unorganized force which they had been told was there but rather a sizable Aragonese fleet. Nonetheless, the commander of the Lusitanian armada, an experienced and decorated admiral named Jorge Correia, ordered an attack, hoping to surprise the enemy and destroy them in their harbor. The Lusitanian attack was unexpected, but the Aragonese and Neapolitans scrambled to meet the attackers, weighing anchor and sailing out to meet them piecemeal or in penny packets. The Lusitanians at first crashed through the enemy formation, but as more and more ships took to the sea, they were halted and then, slowly, driven back. The Lusitanian ships were mostly sailing vessels, awkward and ungainly in the confines of the bay, while the allied galleys were far more agile and maneuverable. The air was filled with gunsmoke and fire as cannons roared at point-blank range, and fighting soon devolved into a chaotic mess of lone ship against lone ship as strategy and orders were lost in the fog. After more than six hours of fighting, the Lusitanians were driven back with forty-two ships sunk or captured, while the Neapolitans and Aragonese lost fifty-one of their seventy-two ships[2]. The remainder of the Lusitanian force limped back out into the open Mediterranean, leaving a crippled enemy fleet behind them. However, Correia knew that he still had an opportunity to score a crushing victory, damn the costs. That night, one of the Lusitanians ships, the San Erasmo, broke off from the rest with two escorts, sailing back towards Naples. San Erasmo was stripped of anything of value and stuffed with straw and liquor, then pointed at Naples with the rising tide and eastward wind, the crew being evacuated except for Correia and a handful of fanatics. The admiral rode the caravel into the port, silent under the cover of night, then set fire to the ship as it closed to within a few hundred meters. The San Erasmo exploded into a massive fireball amongst the surrounding vessels, and within minutes the allied fleet was on fire. The Aragonese and Neapolitan fleet was heavily damaged, with only a dozen ships managing to survive intact.

    With Ferdinand and his army trapped in Italy, Duerte was able to resume the offensive in Iberia at a break-neck pace. After a few days of negotiations, Zaragoza surrendered in exchange for being spared a sack. With the heart of the Ebro secured, Duerte told de Nandufe to turn his attentions to dealing with the Navarese, while he himself moved against Barcelona. In the south, the siege of Valencia continued on into the winter, only ending after de Cordoba was able to convince the governor and the guilds that he would allow them to maintain their current positions during the occupation. In late May, a Castillian garrison was installed in the city’s citadel, after which Cordoba turned his attention to dealing with the remaining garrisons in Murcia and along the plains north of the city.

    With the south essentially secured in all but name and the Basques pinned down fighting Nandufe, Duerte turned his attention to Barcelona itself, the beating heart of Aragon. In late June, he abandoned the Ebro valley itself and marched eastwards, aiming directly for the capital. Lleida surrendered without a fight, and with the plains secured he was free to move into the mountain. De Najera realized that this was his golden opportunity to halt the enemy advance, and rapidly moved to waylay his enemy. Even as the Lusitanians advanced further and further into the rough country, they found fortresses and castles that should have barred their way abandoned, as if dozens of garrisons had defected all at once. Duerte was suspicious, but resolved not to look a gift horse in the mouth and kept up the advance at a rapid pace. This was nearly his undoing.

    On 21 July, the Lusitanian army was waylaid in the pass of Fonollosa[3] by Najera’s army. They were tired from weeks of constant marching and strung out along the road, by all rights an easy target for an ambuscade. However, the poor quality of the Aragonese force made itself known, both literally and figuratively, when a militia brigade sprung from ambush far too early, giving away the entire attack. While Najera roused his men to begin the assault while the Lusitanians were only halfway into the trap, Duerte hastily withdrew, escaping out of the pass’ northern end with light casualties. Once out from under enemy fire, the Lusitanians reformed on the plains, managing to keep order before turning to face their pursuers. Najera had been unable to halt his overeager soldiers, and many of them rushed out of the pass and onto the flatlands, where they were swiftly cut down by the far more orderly Lusitanians. For several crucial moments, Najera vacillated between ordering an all-out assault or pulling back, and during this interlude the king was able to do some hasty planning. He sent several brigades west into the nearby forest, then beat a retreat back from whence he came, seeming to be routing in front of the Aragonese. Many of Najera’s soldiers broke rank and gave chase, leaving the duke to hastily chase after them with the rest of his force. Once the Aragonese had completely emerged from their cover, Duerte about-faced to meet them, and the reverse ambuscade was hastily sprung. The Aragonese host quickly dissolved, various militia and mercenary forces fleeing in all directions while Najera desperate tried to fight a rearguard action with the remnants of his force. After an hour of assault from all sides, the duke realized that the battle was lost and surrendered rather than send more men to their deaths.

    With the chief Aragonese force either scattered or imprisoned and its commander in chains, Duerte was able to advance directly against Barcelona in the following weeks, after his army had recovered from the brief battle. On 6 August, Duerte arrived outside the capital with a winded but still capable force. The people of Barcelona had hastily organized into a series of militias to hold the walls, and Duerte knew that he could never hope to take the city by storm. With siege artillery still several weeks away and having effectively outrun his supply chain, the king sent a message to the bishop of the city, -----, offering to spare the city from a sack if they surrendered to him immediately. The answer from the defenders was almost unanimously ‘No’, as they still believed Ferdinand was on the way with reinforcements, but there were enough dissenters for entire brigades needing to be taken off the walls. Scenting weakness, Duerte offered effective autonomy to the city in most of its affairs in the peace settlement if they would surrender without a fight. This piqued their interest, as much of the militia were drawn from the guilds and the lower classes, who disliked the direct rule of the king and would have much preferred a measure of autonomy. Several sally gates were quietly opened and Lusitanian soldiers entered on 9 August, joining with the anti-war militias in driving the loyalists out of much of the town and confining them within the citadel after two days of street fight. Duerte then entered the city in triumph, parading through the city streets as a conqueror, before making his way to the cathedral and having himself crowned as King of Aragon, the crown jewels having been captured before the loyalists could hide them.

    This complicated things, to say the very least.

    Duerte had a very weak claim to the Aragonese throne, as his grandmother Eleanor had been a daughter of Ferdinand I. However, this claim would only really come into effect if all other male members of the House of Trastamara were dead, and this was not the case as evidenced by Ferdinand III’s continued existence in Italy. Duerte’s true claim was the fact that he was in Barcelona with a large army. Even beyond the claim, Duerte’s actions had essentially thrown Aragon into a civil war as garrisons across the country would either defect to him or remain loyal to Ferdinand. More importantly, he hadn’t bothered to clear this decision with anyone other than himself, not even his advisors, and this unexpected declaration threw the internal cohesion of the French alliances into turmoil. Louis had planned to use the successes in Iberia to knock the Aragonese out of the war and thus pincer Italy yet again, but had neglected to actually inform Duerte of this, out of fear that his ally would refuse and scupper these plans. Now, with these plans wrecked beyond repair, Louis sent a series of angry missives to his ally, essentially screaming at him for destroying a plan he didn’t even know existed. This pissed Duerte off, and he became even more pissed off when he concluded that Louis had intended to trade away everything that the Lusitanians had bled for. He transferred the second force which he had been intending to send north[4] to garrison Catalonia while he personally marched to subdue the Navarese.

    Throughout 1520, the Lusitanians-Aragonese were occupied with the strange conflict in Aragon, which was slowly unified around the banner of Duerte or ground into submission either way, and the reduction of Navarre. De Nandufe had been assigned to this task before he had been hastily dispatched northwards to lead the expeditionary force, and in the subsequent brief lull the Basques had made quite the comeback, even managing to recover Pamplona. Once the king himself was present in the theater, though, these gains were quickly reversed. By the end of 1520, the Navarese proper had been broken, reduced to a handful of partisan bands up in the high mountains and the forces under Pedro of Navarre, a cousin of the king, who had managed to lead a retreat across the Pyrenees, where he hoped to hold off the attacks from the south.

    However, more importantly, Duerte was conducting a series of secret negotiations with Hyginus. The Pope desperately wanted to weaken the French by any means possible[5], while Duerte wanted, nay, needed, the legitimacy that would be provided by Papal support for his claim to the throne of Aragon, as well as the need to prevent the rising of a continental power strong enough to threaten his control over Iberia. It would seem as if their shared goals would allow them to work together for mutual benefit, but there was still a very large elephant in the room; Ferdinand. The exiled king had managed to secure control over Naples as well as the formerly Aragonese possessions in the central Mediterranean and was attempting to raise a fleet to retake his first territory in Iberia. Hyginus had to tread the tightrope between the two monarchs, as either of them swinging to (re)join the French could potentially be disastrous. After several months of silent, three-way negotiations, the pope and the two kings struck a deal. Hyginus and Ferdinand would recognize Duerte as King of Aragon, but the Kingdom of the Balearics and the Kingdom of Valencia, which were legally distinct from Aragon itself, would be worked out later. In exchange, Duerte would invade France post haste.

    In April 1521, the infante Afonso (b.1498) led 15,000 men across the Pyrenees under the pretext of finishing off the Navarese. Pedro raised a final army to meet them, intercepting the Iberians at the field of Saint-Jean, where he made his final stand. Unfortunately for both him and the glory of Navarre, rather than charging up the hill to meet him as he had hoped the Iberians would, they opened fire at a distance with crossbows and arquebuses and began inflicting heavy losses on the unshielded Navarrese soldiers. Pedro made a final heroic charge, but he and his men were cut down at a distance, inflicting pathetically low losses on the attackers. Saint-Jean was then occupied, effectively ending the existence of independent Navarre. However, the Iberians did not stop here. Afonso advanced out of Navarre and into France proper, taking Bayonne by surprise and installing a garrison. Fast-moving cavalry forces then spread out across the lands south of the Adour, taking Dax and the Bearnite cities without a fight and repulsing a small force of militia and retainers from Armagnac at Castelnau. His orders were to halt here while reinforcements were brought up from across the mountains or sailed into Bayonne from the ports of Asturias, but the restless prince refused to wait, likely driven by a desire to win a name for himself and the scent of blood in the water. Afonso led nearly 10,000 men north across the Adour towards Bordeaux itself in early August, but was unable to reach the city. Alan of Albret, one of the French noblemen of the region, had managed to rally a force of several thousand militia, knights and retainers to meet the invaders, hoping to protect their lands from the usual ravages of war. This motley force waylaid Afonso and his army near the isolated Gascon village of Sabres, harassing them from the dense forests of the region and wearing down his rear and flanks in a day-long running battle. Finally, Alan met Afonso in a pitched battle, which was ultimately inconclusive. Alan keeled over from a heart attack in the heat of the battle, and while the French were forced to withdraw, Afonso decided to do the same after assessing his losses and supply situation.

    Duarte crossed the Pyrenees in late July, furious that his son had gone beyond his orders and risked disaster. More importantly, Afonso’s strike in the west had thrown off his plans of an advance along a wide front, and he was left to make up for this the best he could. He split his own force of 20,000 in half, sending 10,000 west into eastern Guyenne while the majority of his army attacked Languedoc. The secondary force was able to take Toulouse and the surrounding territories with little difficulty, although they came under frequent harassment by local militias and noble cavalry from the duchies to their north. The Occitanains had by now realised that their homeland was being turned into a war zone and many of them fled northwards, burning their crops as they went to spite the enemy. Knights from the northern duchies also raided the region, seeking to deny the advancing foe supplies by despoiling the land--after all, it wasn’t their land, and so smashing it up ‘a bit’ would be more than justified to prevent the advance of the perfidious enemy. Duarte, meanwhile, advanced on the cities along the Mediterranean with surprising speed, as many of the cities were caught off-guard and surrendered rather than risking a sack. By the end of September, an Iberian army was besieging Montpillier, the only major city in the south not captured other than the mighty fortress of Carcassonne.

    The French had responded to this invasion primarily by indirect resistance or sorties against isolated garrisons, such as those undertaken by Charles, the Count of Alençon. However, in October 1521, Louis and his army finally arrived from Italy, having run themselves into exhaustion to defend the southern provinces. The arrival of such a large French force caused Duerte to withdraw from Montpellier, which was relieved after a harrowing siege of several weeks to the cheers of all of its inhabitants. Several thousand pounds of cannonballs were lodged within the walls of the city, but they had stood strong against the invaders. Louis further pursued the Iberians southwards along the coast, but his army was too exhausted to keep in order and became strung out along the road, forcing him to pull back to Montpellier after chasing the Iberians across the Herault. The snows came early that year, and the three armies entered winter quarters in mid-November, supplies short all around due to the ravaging of the province that year.

    The war resumed the next spring. Afonso launched another push on Bordeaux in late April, advancing through the now-abandoned and devastated countryside with his diminished army. However, he advanced at an unusually slow pace and there was more than enough time for the garrison of the city to send a cry for help to Louis’ army before the city was surrounded. Louis mustered his army, by now much reduced by the cold and the hunger of the winter, and counter-marched with some 12,000 men. After two months of force-marching across the devastated country, the king and his army arrived outside of Bordeaux, where they offered battle to the infante and his army. Fearing being cut off from his route of retreat, Afonso accepted the offer.

    Knowing he was outnumbered, the Iberia deployed his forces on a line, with the river securing their left flank and a number of open cisterns to anchor his right. He was planning a purely defensive battle, hoping to inflict enough losses to force Louis to pull back. Louis, on the other hand, extended his left, hoping to sweep around the cisterns and pin down the enemy rear while he hammered into their center and left with his own center and right, hoping to break them entirely. The battle opened quietly, shortly before noon, with skirmishing between the light infantry of both armies, before Louis ordered his men to advance with the sun still high in the sky. The left, under d’Alençon, advanced slowly across the scrubby field, and so the French mainline struck their enemy line first, ranks of grizzled veterans pressing against each other, eventually beginning to push northwards as the experience of the French and the Lombards made itself known. The Iberian heavy infantry were as a whole less heavily armored, and so in addition to their experience and the weight of numbers, which was already on their side, the Franco-Lombards had physical weight on their side as well. After nearly an hour of fighting, Louis; men seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough, the Iberians wavering desperately as their losses mounted and their line lost cohesion. The king had by now begun to wonder where the encircling force had gone, but was focused more on the struggle at hand. Then, Charles and the remnant of the French left came streaming out of the wickets in full retreat, followed shortly afterwards by Castillian cavalry. Louis turned to meet this force, but before he could, another formation appeared at his seven o’clock, then in his rear. Duarte had shadowed the Franco-Lombards along their entire march at great distance, only closing with them once the battle was in full swing. Louis was forced to pull forces back to try and defend from this new attack, forming a concave arc with their backs to the riverbank. As more and more soldiers came pouring out of the wilds, Louis ordered his men to retreat across a shallow part of the river to a river island, the rest of the army fighting fighting desperately to cover their retreat. The French put up the best fight they could, but the king soon discovered to his horror that the river was far faster than he thought it was, fed by the melting of the snowpack with the spring thaw, and many of the soldiers lost their footing and were swept away. The Iberians pressed further forwards, and gradually the French were forced back into the river and the mud, either cut down by the enemy or carried away by the swift currents. Only three hundred men escaped to the river island, Louis among them, and then escaped across to the far bank on crude rafts.

    The Battle of Bègles effectively gutted the French army and broke the spirit of France at large. Louis insisted that victory could still be won, but few of his vassals and subjects agreed. Cities across the south of France surrendered and accepted Iberian garrisons, and the Count of Rodez[6] went so far as to swear fealty to Duarte. Gayenne, Languedoc and Santogne were all secured within a few scant months, and the Iberians went eastwards into the lands of Provence. In spite of the king’s energetic leadership, many of his nobles refused to muster out and follow him, and many of the levies which he tried to raise from across Occitane outright revolted rather than march to their deaths. Duerte sent raiding parties northwards, seeking to stir up revolts to further weaken his enemies, further devastating the regions. After several months, the king was finally able to scrape together 3,000 men, a ragged force by any measure of the definition. In September 1522, he marched to relieve the isolated castle of Lodeve, from which he hoped to threaten the Iberians’ supply lines and force them to pull back from Provence. He succeeded in reliving the castle, a fairly significant morale victory for such a beleaguered army, and began raiding the roads south-west of Montpellier. However, his scouting court was essentially nonexistent, and so an Iberian force fell upon them by surprise. The army was shattered by overwhelming attack from two directions, and Louis was forced to flee the field again.

    In spite of all these defeats, Louis was certain that he still had a chance at victory. He spent the winter of 1522-1523 trying to muster forces from northern and central France, which was by now overrun by peasant revolts due to overtaxation and devastation because of Munsterian and Iberian raids. Most recruitable men were dead, already revolting, or helping de Foix in his manic defense of the capital. Unable to muster anything more than a few hundred men, he marched south once again in hopes of raiding the enemy and mustering more support. On 28 February 1523, near the small town of Vichy, the king and his men encountered a party of Iberian raiders. A Castillian arquebusier fired and Louis fell from his saddle, the left side of his head reduced to a bloody pulp. With him died the French war effort; within a few weeks, the war would be over.

    [1] The Aragonese crown was quite decentralized, and so Ferdinand raised a small host so as to not anger his subjects while he was out of the country.
    [2] These were unusually large fleets, and this was part of the reason why they took so much damage; the vast majority of these armadas were merchantmen turned transports.
    [3] I think this might be the contemporary name, but I’m not sure,
    [4] He had been asked to send 20,000 men to the north, but obviously refused to send the latter half. He actually tried to recall de Nandufe, but the message never made it through.
    [5] Hyginus was still an adamant reformer, however, and refused to excommunicate Louis for anything other than a mortal sin. They may disagree vehemently (to say the least) but he would not damn him for a temporal falling out.
    [6] Butterflies mean Rodez never falls into union with Armangac.
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    War of the Three Leagues wikibox
  • Eparkhos

    Alright, if you're not willing to read the whole section on the Three Leagues (I don't blame you), here's a wikibox for it:
    War of the Three Leagues Wikibox.png
    Part XLIII: Peace? (1523--)
  • Eparkhos

    And now, I present to you the final installment of the saga of the Three Leagues, to be accompanied tomorrow by a map....

    Part XLIII: Peace? (1523--)

    The end of the Middle Ages is most commonly dated to either 1453, with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire[1], or 1523, with the death of Louis XII in battle and the resulting end of the War of the Three Leagues. The selection of the latter date is quite rational, as the War of the Three Leagues did mark a turning point in European history. Many of the war’s aftershocks--the Second Jacquerie, the Bauernkrieg, and the Great Saxon Rising--were inevitable before the war was even over, as the great losses in men and material that had been caused by the half-decade of war made increasing taxes on the already desperate peasantry a certainty. The sheer amount of death and destruction during and because of the war was by itself enough to close this chapter of history, but the longest-lasting effects of it would come with the treaties that ended it.

    The House of Valois had a problem with male heirs, namely that there were very few. Through a string of diseases, unfortunate accidents and all-around bad luck, the once sprawling family tree had parsed down into a glorified shrub. For the first few years of his reign, Louis’ heir-apparent had been his cousin, Louis de Valois-Orleans[2], but his death in 1515 had shunted the title of crown prince off to his even more distant cousin, François d'Angoulême[3] who was in his early twenties and was married to Claude of Brittany, the scion of a family known for its fecundity. Surely, the succession was safe. But then Francois fell in battle against the Marians in 1520, and Claude miscarried a posthumous son, ending the male line of yet another Capetian cadet branch. This sparked a succession crisis, as the next eligible claimant to the throne was none other than Philip II of the Rhinemouths. Even as the war raged on in the north, there was a distinct possibility that it might all be ended by Philip inheriting the French throne. This period only lasted a year, however, and in 1521 Louis declared that no member of the House of Burgundy would be allowed to sit upon the French throne under any circumstances, and this was backed up by the hastily-assembled Estates General. With Philip disinherited, the position of next-in-line effectively became empty, while the next-in-line was tracked down. The House of Valois-Bourbon was essentially extinct in the male line, their only surviving legitimate man being Louis, the Bishop of Liege, who was rapidly approaching his eightieth birthday. The Bourbons had been the most fecund of the Valois cadet branches, but every other male member of the clan had fallen in battle during the war, a show of shocking misfortune. At long last, the archivists and genealogists managed to track down the closest surviving male relative of the Valois (other than Louis, of course); his tenth cousin twice removed, Charles d’Alençon. Charles was well-liked and had proven himself in battle against the Iberians, and so he was an excellent pick for heir-apparent. There was the slight problem that his wife was barren, but that could be worked out when they weren’t at war with the pope.

    In February 1523, after Louis was finally killed in battle, Charles IX was swept onto the throne. Not clouded with pride and delusion like his cousin had been, the new king recognized that the war had been as good as lost since 1521. He sued for peace at once, hoping to end the foreign conflicts so he could turn his attention to dealing with the murderous, thieving hordes of militant peasants who were running around Poitou and Normandy. The Munsterians had similar problems of their own, the Bauernkrieg having begun in full force, and they were already on the verge of exhausting their collective funds. As such, they were agreeable to a peace conference. The Marians, meanwhile, were having a field day on the Lombard plains, and they stalled a ceasefire until they had managed to recover everything except Milan, so they had as strong a negotiational position as they possibly could. However, by the end of June 1523, all parties had agreed to a peace settlement, to be conducted in three different conferences (per se).

    The first treaty was conducted between France and the Iberian states, in the Peace of Narbonne. Duarte was more or less satisfied with the bulk of his possessions on the southern side of the Pyrenees, but saw expansion northwards as an opportunity to create a valuable buffer zone between France and the lands he actually cared about. The Count of Rodez had also pledged his fealty, and the king felt pressured to protect him lest he appear unreliable and borderline traitorous to the rest of his vassals. Charles, for his part, just wanted a stable and neutral southern frontier so he could concentrate on internal affairs and not have to worry about raiders from the south further exacerbating problems. After a few days of negotiations, they came to an arrangement. The Viscounties of Bearn and Begore had previously been vassals of the Navarese crown, and so Charles ceded them to Duarte in his role as King of Navarre. The counties of Foix and Commiges would also be given over to Aragon, as well as Toulouse and the lands immediately surrounding it. Rodez would also be ceded to Aragon, but would remain as an exclave from the kingdom proper. No financial penalties would be imposed upon either party. This peace was agreeable to both monarchs, but it angered the French nobles, and Charles was nearly assassinated upon returning to Paris.

    The next peace was concluded with the Munsterians. Edward had effectively pulled out of the conflict and was desperately trying to put down the Geraldine Rising in Ireland, which had succeeded in driving the English out of the island bar only Dublin and Cork, which were under siege as the diplomats spoke. The Rhinemouthers were on the verge of financial insolvency, having borrowed great sums of money from domestic bankers to support the war effort, and had suffered much damage from de Foix’s raids. The Munsterian states were also badly battered by their losses from the war and especially from the Great Raid of 1521, and Eric was only able to keep them working together with the promise of imminent victory. Bogislaw, meanwhile, had pulled back from the war as well, having to deal with the Bauernkrieg, which was the mother of all peasant revolts and was currently savagining Swabia and Thuringia. There was also the Lower Saxon Rising, which had been sparked by the French-aligned Duke of Brunswick fleeing from Imperial armies into Saxony, burning and looting as he went, which had driven the peasants to throw out their rightful rulers and establish independent republics and militia councils with the goal of local self-defence. This was intolerable to the feudal lords, and many of the princes of the Empire were threatening to elect an anti-emperor who would do something about the rebels if Bogislaw didn’t help them.

    My point is, the Munsterians were on the verge of breaking themselves, and so they were hardly in a position to impose crushing terms against the French. Because of this, the changes in territory at the end of the war was surprisingly small. The Rhinemouthers would annex Picardy, which they had briefly held in a dynastic union twenty years beforehand, and Guise to the Rhinemouths proper, while the County of Rethel would be subject to the Duchy of Luxembourg, which was in personal union under Philip II. South-eastern Champagne would be annexed into the Duchy of Lorraine, while the Duchy of Bar would be broken off and given over to Bogislaw’s youngest son, Barnim[4]. There were also a number of fairly minor border arrangements, with several Munsterian states annexing a few castles or towns along the border. The Duchy of Brittany would also have its independence restored to it, with the complex chain of marriages and suspicious deaths that had once nearly brought it into personal union with France wound up placing Pedro de Navarre, former regent of Navarre, upon the Breton throne. Finally, an incredible amount of money would be paid to the Munsterians, equivalent to the total income of the French crown for a year, to be distributed amongst the states of the League ‘for the benefit of all’. Most of this money was taken by Philip to pay back his money-lenders, but enough made it to the smaller states to allow them to at least start paying down their debts. Such a large indemnity severely weakened the strength of both France at large and Charles himself, and the increased taxes needed to make up the balance and keep the state running merely exacerbated the ongoing peasant uprisings across France.

    And, finally, there was the Treaty of Savona, conducted between France and the Marians in early 1524 after several months of tenuous negotiations. The Marians were doubtlessly victorious in the region, having effectively driven the French and their allies from the peninsula almost entirely on their own. Because of this, they were rather arrogant and, despite Hyginus’ best attempts at diplomacy, it was nearly impossible to establish internal agreement, which made presenting a united front towards the French, to say the least. At long last, the Pope was able to wrangle his supporters and met with Charles personally at Savona in August 1523.

    Savona and Lombardy, as steadfast allies of the French, would be shown little mercy. Savona’s mainland territory would be halved, with Genoa being reclaimed by the Calvians[5] and everything east of Rapallo being annexed by Tuscany. However, they would be allowed to rebuild their fleet to as great extent as they pleased, and they kept most of their trading posts in the western Mediterranean, albeit because of logistical problems in transferring them to Calvi or Venice rather than any legitimate mercy. Hyginus would recognize Giovanni Comnini, who was elected as doge in 1525, as legitimate Lord of Savona a few weeks later, and the Savonese would join the Trinitarian Coalition against the barbaries a few years down the road. Naples would be officially recognized as the possession of the former Ferdinand III of Aragon, and in a later treaty between Duarte, Ferdinand and Hyginus, Sardinia, Sicily and the Balearic Islands would all be recognized as de jure territory of Naples, marking an effective reversal of the dynastic situation of previous centuries.

    However, the most dramatic impact of the Treaty of Savona was in northern Italy itself. Lombardy, as both a kingdom and as a state, would be dismembered in its entirety. Venice would regain most of its pre-invasion territory along the Po plain, except for Mantua, which more than doubled its mainland holding with the stroke of a pen. That most of this region was a burned-out wreck of its former self, as was most of northern Italy by this point, does not seem to have bothered the Doge. The island fortress of Ile-du-Roi would be razed and its weapons distributed amongst the Marian states, with all of the Marian states agreeing to prevent the construction of any fortress here in the future, which would prevent the passage of vessels up the river. Modena would expand itself greatly, annexing Parma and Ferrara from Lombardy. By now, the region had been so devastated by the back-and-forth fighting that Ferrara was the only halfway decent city left, and so it became the capital of the newly-established Grand Duchy of the Four Cities. Urbino also gained new territories, being awarded the fortress city of Mantua in what was almost certainly a calculated effort to turn the Urbinians and the Modenese against each other and thus allow Hyginus to wield more influence over them both. The Tuscans would move their border further north, to the northern foothills of the Apennines, securing them a defensible frontier and a great deal of influence over the regions to their north. And, of course, new states were carved out of Lombardy. The Duchy of Savoy was returned to its exiled dynasty, stradling lands in both the lowlands of Italy, the Alps, and the lowlands of Provence. The Duchy of Alessandria was carved out around the city of the same name, its ruler being a friend of Hyginus named Alessandro Agostino Lascaris[6]. The Counties of Piacenza and Cremona were also established, once again around the cities of the same name, and were made the segnorities of Fredrico di Gonzago, the exiled descendant of the former Dukes of Mantua. More importantly as far as Hyginus was concerned, he had been one of his closest political allies in Rome and had helped in the defense of the city against the army of the Borgias. The city of Como, Hyginus’ former residence during his time as a cardinal, was annexed into the Papal States, while Avignon and Benevento were restored to Roman control. Finally, the remnant of the Kingdom of Lombardy was formerly reduced to the Duchy of Milan, and Massimiliano Sforza, the son of the last native duke, was restored to the Milanese throne.

    The Duchy of Provence would also be raised to a state in personal union with France, rather than an integral part of it as it had been before. This had little immediate impact, but Hyginus intended for it to complicate the relations between the two states and turn it into a quagmire that would reduce its value as a staging point. No money would change hands, however, as Hyginus sensed the financial weakness of the French monarchy and feared that destabilizing it would only worsen the ongoing crisis, a fear that had far more justification than he knew. Finally, on the far side of the Adriatic, the secondary Epirote theater of the war was also brought to a close at Savona. The Epirotes had been a Neapolitan protectorate before the war, and upon the outbreak of the war they had been attacked by the Venetians and the Venetian-allied Albanians and Moreotes. When the war in Naples had spiraled out into civil war, Epirus too had collapsed into civil war between the French-aligned Carlo III and the Aragonese-aligned Ferrante. Ferrante had triumphed after receiving support from the Venetians, but he was a puppet of the Serene Republic because of it. The Venetians would annex Vonitsa, Preveza and all the islands of the region, while the Albanians would seize everything north of Ottoman-held Sarandoz and the Moreotes would annex Missolonghi and the lands around the Aitoliko lagoon.

    While the War of the Three Leagues was over, a time of great strife had only just begun. Central France and much of Germany[7] were consumed by revolts as hungry and angry peasants rose up against their oppressors in hopes of ending centuries of oppression. In the east, Hungary, Austria and Serbia had all been devastated by a long-running civil war between the newly-ascended Ladislaus V and his brother Janos[8], the prosperity of the Raven’s reign wiped away in a few scant years. Across Europe, many thousands lay dead from hunger and hundreds of thousands struggled to survive, their lands and homes wrecked by the shadow of war or raids from neighboring states. With the chief maritime powers of the Mediterranean engaged in a death-struggle, the barbary corsairs had had a field day, ravaging the coasts of the western Mediterranean and enslaving thousands. The common people of Europe were tired, desperate and disillusioned, having watched their sons and brothers march to their deaths for the sake of some petty noblemen. The fires of revolt burned across much of the region, but it was only with the publication of the 67 Articles of Ulrich Zwingli that these fires would rise into an all-consuming inferno….

    [1] The Hundred Year’s War ended in 1458 ITTL, so there is far less impetus for 1453 to be considered the close of the era. The survival of the Moreotes and Trapezuntines also weakens the argument that it ended the Byzantine Empire, so the Fall of Constantiople, while still significant, isn’t as important.
    [2] OTL’s Louis XII
    [3] OTL Francis I. I’m using the modern form of his name here, btw, he wrote his name ‘Francoys’.
    [4] The succession laws of Pomerania dictated that each son would receive an equal amount of their father’s land unless they were awarded appenages before his death. Bogislaw intended his eldest son, Kasmir/Conrad to succeed him as Duke of Pomerania and Brunswick and Anna as Duke of Brandenburg, and so gave appenages to his other three sons; Georg, his second son, became Duke of Anhalt, and his fourth son, Otto, became Burgrave of Donha.
    [5] Genoa was by now so thoroughly wrecked by five subsequent battles during the War of the Three Leagues that it was effectively useless, and Calvi remained the capital of the republic. It is likely that Hyginus advocated this in hopes of further involving Calvi in mainland affairs, so that he could use it as a counterbalance against the Venetians.
    [6] Alessandrio is a female-line descendant of Ioannes Vatatzes, but still used the prestigious Lascaris surname because, after all, who was going to stop him? Vatatzes’ ghost?
    [7] The Bundschuh Movement occurred as in OTL, but the spark of the Bauernkrieg was not Luther’s writing as in OTL but rather several years of drought and famine that exacerbated the already tyrannical tax systems of the Carinthian lords. Joss Fritz and his peasant army kicked off the Bauernkrieg proper with their sack of Heidelberg in 1519, and since then a mixture of insurgencies and outright revolts have crippled central and southern Germany, with no signs of stopping. The Second Jacquerie began when the self-defense groups that had been organized to drive off the Munsterian raiders in central France were attacked by their own lords, who feared organized peasants more than they did enemy raiders.
    [8] They had a civil war off camera, I couldn’t work myself up to actually make an update for a periphery conflict after spending so much time writing and rewriting the sections on the War of the Three Leagues.
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    Part XLIV: Balışeyh’s Nightmare (1514-1519)
  • Eparkhos

    Alright, I accidentally deleted the document I had the beginning of the Reformation in, so we're returning to the east a few days ahead of schedule.

    Part XLIV: Balışeyh’s Nightmare (1514-1519)

    In the closing years of the 13th Century, Osman had ridden alongside a Sufi mystic by the name of Balışeyh, sometimes rendered as Sheikh Edebali. Balışeyh was an Arab exile and a strong mystic, who served as advisor to both Osman and his father Ertuğurul due to his great wisdom and frequent prophetic visions. It was he who gave Osman his famous ghazi sword when he was still in his teens, and it was by marriage to his daughter that the Osmanlis laid claim to the title of sayyid, or descendant of Mohammed[1]. He famously wrote a poem of advice to his son-in-law, promising him that he and his descendants would enjoy great success if they followed his precepts. If, he said, they obeyed the commands which had been given to him in a dream, then they would be forever prosperous. By 1520, it was evident that he had lied. After seven years of civil war--an inauspicious number, as well--Rumelia had been devastated and most of Anatolia had been lost to the Karamanids or the Trapezuntines. The struggle between Mehmed III and Ebülhayr Paşa had killed hundreds of thousands of the Sublime Porte’s subjects through the sword or through famine or disease. A fratricidal war of the kind not seen in over a century had descended upon Osman’s Empire, and they were incalculably worse off for it.

    After a series of bloody battles, the sultan and his army had appeared to be on the verge of taking Constantinople in September 1514, having pinned the grand vizier’s army against the Black Sea in northern Rumelia and with no army between him and the capital. However, his madcap rush to the Queen of Cities had proven to be almost pointless, as by the time he reached it Ebülhayr Paşa had managed to sealift his army to the capital and reinforce with some of the many Greek militias which had popped up to oppose the ravages of Mehmed’s outriders, making a direct assault on the city impossible without fighting a pitched battle. Given how late it was in the campaign season, Mehmed decided his best option was to pull back and try and entice Ebülhayr Paşa and his army into an attack on unfavorable terrain. As winter was rapidly approaching and they would have nothing to fall back upon, he was certain that if he could force them to battle, then the capital would be his within the year. As such, he began a harassing retreat across Thrake, hoping to provoke the grand vizier into pursuing him. However, Ebülhayr Paşa recognized this as the poorly-executed trap that it was and remained firm, advancing only as far as the Anastasian Long Walls[2] and instead directing his irregulars beyond to harass Mehmed’s army. The continuous harassment gradually wore down the sultan’s army, as the waylaying of outriders and foraging and supply forces severely limited his ability to feed his army. By mid-October, the sultan had halted at Tekirdağ and was appraising his options in regard to the army between him and the capital, all while the irregulars continuously ground down his supply lines. Indeed, his supply problems were exacerbated by his very methods of collecting them, as he had pillaged much of this region for food in his march towards the capital, and was now having trouble scrounging up enough food to feed his men, let alone his camp followers. After a few weeks of deliberation, he broke camp and retreated north-west across Thrake, hoping to return to the friendly country in Upper Rumelia before winter set in.

    He wouldn’t be so lucky. With his force slowed down by having to individually or unicially forage, his army moved quite slowly, even for the quagmire-esque movement speeds of the 16th century. He reached Edirne, which was itself already fairly taxed, in mid-November, by which point the snow had already begun. Neither he nor anyone else alive at that time could know it, but the winter of 1515-1515 would be the coldest in thirty years, comparable to winter which had so shredded Mehmed’s father’s army outside of Trapezous. Over the following weeks, he would lose thousands of soldiers and camp followers to the cold, hunger and diseases which were exacerbated by the former two. The retreat of the sultan’s army from Edirne to Philippoupoli would leave a trail of corpses both human and horse behind it, as stragglers who fell were left for dead rather than encumbering the already worn-down army. Mehmed himself had to tie himself to the saddle to keep from collapsing, and many officers were among the fallen. By the time that the formerly great host reached safety in the fairly quiet Upper Evros Valley, the sultan’s men had dwindled from 20,000 back in September to 10,000 ragged and exhausted soldiers, none of whom were fit for battle.

    The Paşa’s men, meanwhile, while short on supplies due to the difficulties in keeping the capital fed and the loss of the granaries of Bithynia due to the Turkmen invasion and the Greek rising there, were in far better condition than their counterparts. Once the snows had melted in April, the grand vizier departed the eastern edge of Thrake with some 15,000, hoping to crush the sultan’s forces while they were still weak. Edirne surrendered without a fight, returning the former capital to the rule of the current capital, and Mehmed was forced to accelerate his hurried resupply around Philippopuli to avoid being caught out on the open plains, where he would surely be crushed. He withdrew to Sofiya, but was unable to fortify the passes eastward before the vizier arrived. Ebülhayr Paşa then skewered[3] the sultan by marshalling his army eastward of Philippoupoli, from which it could go east to capture Sofiya or north to attack the Bulgarian plain with equal ease, making sure that one would fall even if the other was saved. Mehmed was by this point nearly in full retreat, and decided that the Turkish-dominated plains of Bulgaria was more valuable and gave him more room to retreat than the hills and passes around Sofiya would, and so he turned north in June 1515, giving over the regional center to the Paşa’s forces.

    Once in Bulgaria, Mehmed scrambled to replenish his army. Given the rather oppressive manner of Turkish rule in the region, he could only raise so many of the Turkish soldiers who lived there, which essentially halved his already small manpower pool. In spite of these handicaps, he was able to raise another 10,000 men of varying quality, which raised his force to some 20,000 strong. However, the Danubians continued to raid against him in force and he was forced to defend several of the border cities lest they gain a foothold on the southern bank, which would pose a serious threat to overall Ottoman rule in the region, which further wore down his limited numbers. Meanwhile, Ebülhayr Paşa continued to move against Mehmed with his full strength, preparing for the killing blow by cordoning off the exits and entrances to the Bulgarian plain, where he hoped to trap his rival and ultimately destroy him. He mustered some 30,000 men to enclose the northern half of the Balkan Peninsula, and was confident that victory could be achieved the following campaign season if he spent the intervening time training and drilling his men so they could match the quality of Mehmed’s professional soldiers. He bribed the Danubians into continuing their assault on Bulgaria, which the voivodes were more than happy to do regardless of their payment.

    In the spring of 1516, Ebülhayr Paşa launched his invasion of Bulgaria, striking with three armies: his own, from Sofiya, another from Haskovo directly over the mountains and a third, smaller force via Varna on the Black Sea coast. Mehmed was caught off guard, having been occupied with the constant raids and harassment and had been in the process of mustering and expanding his new army. Ebülhayr Paşa struck quickly and fiercely, driving the minor forces of the sultan back in all directions and securing more than a dozen fortresses along the periphery. While he was able to defeat the Gabrovo force at the Battle of Tarnovo in May, he recognized that the situation was rapidly getting out of hand as the vizier’s army pressed in from the east and west. After some desperate calculations, he decided that Bulgaria could not be adequately defended and that his best option was to try and break out from the noose that was rapidly cinching around his neck. He mustered every last man he could--some total 18,000--and crossed the mountains in the same direction as the Gabrovo force had come. He feinted towards Constantinople, then discerned that it was too well-secured to be taken, and turned about to go westwards. He raced westward along the coast, gathering men from the Vlach and Turkmen bands of the Rhodopes, before swinging north along the Struma, successfully juking out a Paşist army that was marching from Salonika to try and intercept him. Ebülhayr Paşa and his lieutenants were left reeling, struggling to even trace the manic path which the sultan had taken, let alone pursue him. By October, the sultan and his army had managed to reach Okhrid, near the Albanian border. This region had been settled by many Turkmen and Seljuks as a military frontier against the militantly independent Albanians, and so Mehmed was able to gather many more reinforcements from the border zone, as well as hiring several hundred Albanian mercenaries[4].

    Another harsh winter set in, and this time the shoe was on the other foot. Ebülhayr Paşa had rushed his armies across the Balkans in hopes of catching the Sultan before he could receive reinforcements and/or resupply, even going so far as to pull soldiers out of Bithynia to join his men in Europe, and because of this his armies were strung out across the peninsula when winter began. Ebülhayr Paşa was left to try and coordinate the establishment of winter camps and supply chains stretching across multiple provinces, which kept him distracted by itself. Because of the many different positions they were camped in and the many different commanders who were in charge of the formations--which ranged in strength from a few dozen horsemen to armies of thousands--the grand vizier was soon pulling his hair out trying to deal with the supply situation, all the while his men were dying to cold and hunger while the sultan’s men were fine.

    With the Paşist forces thus reduced, it was Mehmed’s turn to take the offensive in the spring of 1517. He quickly recovered most of OTL Macedonia, defeating an advance force at Bitola in May and inflicting heavy losses. In the following weeks, he would raise more men from across the region, reluctantly allowing Serbs and Bulgarians to take up arms to reinforce his understrength host. He defeated several more enemy armies between April in July, having numerical or terrain superiority every time. Little did he know it, but these were not overeager Paşist forces but instead probing movements by Ebülhayr Paşa. Mehmed quickly grew overconfident, emboldened by these repeated victories over inferior hosts, and began pushing down the Axios Valley, taking Veles, Prilep and Strumica with little opposition and defeating another one of Ebülhayr Paşa’s probing forces on 25 May. The sultan and his men were confident, buoyed by their string of victories and the support of many of the region’s imams and ulema[5], and on the other side the grand vizier’s men, having now reassembled into one unified host at Salonika, were filled with determination knowing that the future of their rights and their families would ride upon their martial abilities in the coming weeks. It should also be noted that Ebülhayr Paşa had a better supply situation, as he was not forced to draw upon local resources and could remain supplied with food and goods brought into the city by ship, while Mehmed was forced to rely upon his typical pattern of ravaging and pillaging foraging.

    The two hosts met at the Battle of the Bloody Gorge. The Axios River slowed to pass through a narrow gorge in the mountains that separated Macedonia and the plains around Salonika, and it was here that Ebülhayr Paşa lay in wait for the sultan with a force of some 18,000 men, knowing that the second city of Europe must not fall to the sultan, or all of the Balkans would be lost with it. Mehmed, meanwhile, approached from the north with a host of 22,000 men, unsure of the grand vizier’s exact position but knowing that he must be close at hand. The sultan’s scouts met the Paşa’s army on 24 July, by which time he had thoroughly resolved to press on until he had reached the city. Two days later, battle was joined.

    Mehmed was aware that the vizier’s forces would be dug in on defensible terrain under what were probably the pest possible conditions for defense, and resolved not to waste the lives of his men on futile assaults. As such, he had them advance under the cover of darkness and dig trenches of their own, from which they would begin peppering the vizier’s forces at a distance with bows, arquebuses and javelins. He also gave orders for cannonade to be hauled up the side of the valley to fire down onto enemy lines. This trench fire did little damage, but it infuriated many of the Paşa’s men, who were unable to fire back given the position of the enemy. Ebülhayr Paşa was able to keep any of his men from rushing out to attack the enemy for several hours, but shortly after noon some of them finally lost it and charged, meeting a wall of spears raged from behind Mehmed’s line and either being killed then and there or being summarily executed by more disciplined soldiers when they fell back to their lines. Sensing weakness, Mehmed then ordered his artillery to open fire, sending hot lead and stone hurtling down into the valley below. The bombardment shot up much of the advance positions of the vizier’s forces, and many of the front ranks of men lost their nerve and tried to pull back, which quickly turned into a quagmire as they ran into the units behind them, in some cases fighting breaking out between the two units. The presence of these runners prevented the orderly ranks of Ebülhayr Paşa’s men from responding to the bombardment with their own bows and arquebuses, and soon the entire front of the army was thrown into chaos. The sultan then roused his men from the trenches and charged, heavily-armored timariots leading the way and absorbing most of the attacks, a wall of armed men at their backs. It was an utter massacre, as the vizier’s men were almost completely unable to turn and fight their attackers and so were cut down in great numbers, the sheer number of blood spilling across the ground and the glowing red of the sunset turning the entire gorge into a scarlet hell. Ebülhayr Paşa was barely able to disengage with great difficulty, and he was only to extricate about half of his force from what had once been his trap, leaving the rest to die or surrender. Mehmed had decisively carried the day, losing only 3,000 of his own men to the Paşa’s 8,000. More importantly, his force retained a great deal of its cohesion, unlike the vizier’s army, which had lost most of its officers, noble and commoner alike.

    Ebülhayr Paşa was forced to hastily retreat back to Salonika, where he once again made good use of his naval superiority to evacuate his army and as many Salonikans as possible, which he hoped would help extend any future siege for as long as was logistically possible. Mehmed, meanwhile, advanced directly on the great port, hoping to take it while its defenders were demoralized after their recent defeat. He would lay siege to the town for the next eight months, putting its walls and defenders under near-constant bombardment but would ultimately fail to break through thanks to the valiant and desperate defense by the city’s Greek residents, who feared the fate that had been visited upon so many of their fellows years earlier in Thrake. A Greek Muslim named Isaakios Raoulles would distinguish himself in battle, taking over command of the defenders after their eparkhos was killed and helping to keep the front against the invaders firm. They were kept supplied by sea, as Ebülhayr Paşa put practically everything he had into keeping the crucial port afloat, commandeering merchantmen and even fishing vessels from across the Aegean and beyond to bring in food and soldiers and evacuate civilians who were unable to fight. Mehmed began leading assaults, hoping to inspire his men into the final push that he knew was needed to take Salonika. It would be here, on 3 March 1518, that he would be killed by a stray bullet, shot out of his saddle by one of his own men.

    After Mehmed’s death, the pro-Turkish cause shattered due to disputes about leadership, purity of movement and other such trivial matters. With his enemies divided, the grand vizier would be able to defeat them piecemeal in a grueling year-and-a-half long campaign that was fought in both the Balkans and in Anatolia. He was forced to use mercenaries to prevent a famine from breaking out, as many of their soldiers had been away from their homes for so long they were struggling to continue farming. Despite this and numerous other financial problems, Ebülhayr Paşa’s right-hand man, İbrahim Paşa, would defeat the last major Mehmedist army at the Battle of Balikesir in May 1520, killing Malkoçoğlu Bali Bey in combat and putting an end to the seven-year-plus civil war. The Ottoman Empire had been utterly gutted and sapped of practically anything of value, but Ebülhayr Paşa had prevailed over the upstart prince, confirming that the future of the state would not be an oversized ghazi beylik dominated only by Turks but a recreation of the old Byzantine Ways by Muslim Greeks and Slavs….

    [1] More specifically, he was a relative of Mohammed, descended from the prophet via one of his male cousins rather than through Fatimah. In OTL, this tenuous link would be what allowed the Ottomans to claim the caliphal throne from the Cairo Abbasids, which has led some historians to suggest that it was fabricated to legitimize this seizure.
    [2] The Anastasian Long Walls were a series of defensive walls that were constructed by the emperor Anastasius I in the 5th Century to protect Constantinople from Slavic raids. They had declined seriously since then thanks to a millennium of neglect and had been heavily cannibalized before they were refurbished by Angelović Paşa during the 1470s as a final line of defense in case a Crusader army got across the mountains.
    [3] This is a chess term which I am applying to real life; the grand vizier did not physically run the sultan through with a skewer.
    [4] The constant civil wars in Albania meant that there were always a number of mercenaries floating around the Balkans, making Albanian mercenaries a recurring element in this period’s history.
    [5] Mehmed’s proclamation of jihad had been ignored by pretty much everyone except for a few friendly clergymen, who he of course kept around his army to inspire the men.
    Part XLV: An Overview of the Balkans (1500-1520)
  • Eparkhos

    To hell with it, I'm running out of time.

    Part XLV: An Overview of the Balkans (1500-1520)

    The Balkan Peninsula in 1520 was radically changed from what it had been a mere two decades before. The Ottoman Empire, which had once dominated the region and projected power far beyond its geographical limits, had been severely reduced by a bloody civil war between the sultan and his vizier, and was essentially ripe for the picking for any power strong enough to take advantage. The Moreotes, previously beset by corruption and internal strife, had managed to reform and were now in a much stronger possession both internally and externally, having defeated the Thessalians in a regional conflict, effectively switching the positions of the two rival states. The Venetians, who had once seemed to be on the verge of being driven from the region, had consolidated their Italian holdings and now were ready to face down the Turks once again. Albania had managed to finally reunify under Jozë the Great, while Epirus is a Moreote vassal in all but name. The Danubian principalities threw off the Ottoman yoke during the civil war, and now are unified under Moldovan rule, presenting a united front against their enemies to both the north and south. Finally, the Hungarians and Serbs loom over the Peninsula, seemingly ready to drive the Turks from Europe for once and for all.

    The largest and most devastating of the conflicts which had wracked the Balkans during the first two decades of the 16th Century was the Second Ottoman Civil War, fought over the increasing power of Greek Muslims within the imperial chancellery and pitting the sultan and his grand vizier against each other. After six years of bloody war, the grand vizier had emerged victorious after Mehmed III fell in battle trying to storm the walls of Salonika; it was a Pyrrhic victory. In Europe, where the bulk of the conflict was fought, the constant marching of armies had caused waves of famines and disease outbreaks to ravage the countryside, in addition to the hundreds of Greek villages that had been massacred by the Turks, and vice versa. Nearly a million people were dead, a benchmark that would be hit and eclipsed by the anti-Turk purges that would follow the conflict, as the vengeful Greek militias slew any Turk they found. Not only did this devastate the imperial bureaucracy by killing hundreds of thousands of tax payers and potential recruits, it also caused a massive refugee problem. Turks and Turkmen fleeing reprisal killings stampeded across the Epirote and Albanian borders, while waves of Greeks fled south into Thessalia or sailed across the Aegean to safety in the Morea or in Venetian-held islands and thousands of Slavs fled into Hungarian Serbia or crossed the Danube into Wallachian and Moldovan territory. These population movements would have long-lasting impacts, but none of them were more immediately apparent than the territorial changes which had occurred during the national schism. The Greeks of Bithynia had risen up and, with the help of the Trapezuntines, proclaimed the restoration of the Empire of Nikaia, which subsequently entered into personal union with the aforementioned Greek empire. The Neo-Rûmites[1] had overrun most of Ottoman Anatolia and driven the Turkmen who lived there into eastward exile, while the minor Greek states had expanded inland at the expense of the Sublime Porte. Ebülhayr Paşa was unable to reverse any of these losses given the weakened state of his, I mean Mustafa III’s, realm, and so could do little but glare ominously at the western states.

    In the far south of the peninsula, the Palaiologian Empire had finally righted itself after decades of decline. The Despotate of Morea had suffered from many of the problems which had beset and ultimately caused the downfall of the late Byzantine Empire, which had nearly caused the statelet to fall itself. Throughout the 15th Century, it had been beset by revolts by the overtaxed peasantry, the undertaxed nobility and the overpaid Albanian mercenaries who made up a large portion of the despot’s army. It was only with the ascension of Andronikos I in 1512 that these issues would be done away with. Andronikos correctly identified the source of so many of his realm’s problems, namely that the nobility paid next to nothing in taxes, and resolved to move against this issue so that it would not hamper the Despotate’s future. At this time, the nobility were divided into three groups: the Latins, who were feudal vassals of Mystras in every sense of the word; the Old Pronoiai, descendants of the Greeks who had helped reconquer the peninsula from the Latins and who were usually the most loyal; and the New Pronoiai, who were the descendants of the horde of refugees, many of them nobility, who had poured into the region after the Fall of Constantinople. Over the following years, Andronikos would turn the New Pronoiai against the other two by advancing them domestically and in court at the expense of the others, which soon made them the object of much resentment by the other two groups. Then, in 1514, when he ‘discovered’ a plot against him by the New Pronoiai, the Latins and the Old Pronoiai were more than willing to help him reduce the New Pronoiai, who were almost universally stripped of their titles and land. That these lands and titles were not given to the old nobility but instead to lowborn loyalists went mostly unnoticed. He then did the same with the Latins, only to similarly abandon them in 1518 on the pretext of ‘collusion with the Epirotes’, who held a similar heritage and more importantly were hostile to Mystras due to the events of the War of the Three Leagues. With the nobility thus either crushed or significantly reduced in power and number, he was able to reform the Despotate’ bureaucracy and institute a more balanced tax system, which relieved the burden on many of the perioikoi and allowed the army and navy to be expanded.

    Of course, he had not been completely focused on domestic policies. He had also taken the field against the Thessalians in 1513, while their overlords were busy with their civil war. The Thessalians, ruled by Ioannes II, had neglected everything martial except their southern border defenses on the presumption that no-one would be willing to risk the wrath of the Sublime Porte over something so minor as Thessaly. As such, they were caught completely flat-footed when Andronikos led an army of some 7,000 men across the border in the spring of 1513 and blew a hole the size of a small city through their akritai. Before Ioannes could muster a response force, the Moreotes had advanced as far as Lamia, which they quickly reduced with a series of artillery barrages. The two despots met at the field of Philiadona a few weeks later, where the Moreotes outnumbered the Thessalians by two thousand men. The resulting battle was decidedly one-sided, as the Thessalian left routed and fled the field before they had even joined melee with the Moreotes, and were followed by most of the army, which was swiftly ridden down and captured by Andronikos; among the captured was Despot Ioannes. Out of a sense of Christian charity (and the desire to not provoke the Ottomans should they manage to pull out of their death spiral) Andronikos only annexed all of Boeotia and Phthotis, instead choosing to impose a crippling amount of tribute payments on the Thessalians to keep them from rebuilding enough to threaten him. He then retired back to Mystras, leaving his cousin Konstantinos to oversee the integration of the new conquests. He also participated in the War of the Three Leagues’ Epirote theater, annexing several villages along the coast after capturing them without a fight.

    Further north, Albania had, of all things, stabilized. The massive (comparatively) civil wars which had wracked the small principality since the death of Skanderbeg in the 1460s had prevented Albania from advancing beyond anything other than its lowly state as a Venetian vassal. The many, many noble houses which had been unified by the great Kastoriti had immediately collapsed into infighting, turning Albania from a principality into a confederation of warring fiefdoms that happened to share the same name. More than two dozen kings from a dozen different houses had reigned during the fifty-year-long period of anarchy, and none of them had been able to control the entirety of the small but mountainous entity. The savior of Albania would not come from one of the noble houses but instead from the lowest ranks of society.

    Jozë Shkozë[2] was born to a Greek slave woman and an Albanian tenant farmer along the Ottoman border in 1488, a situation that must have seemed like it couldn’t have gotten worse. Then Jozë was kidnapped by Turkish slavers in 1502, almost certainly to wind up dead or slaving away in some far-flung part of the empire. Instead, he managed to escape somewhere in the wilds of Thrake and, with nowhere else to go, managed to lie his way into the Ottoman army. He advanced rapidly through the ranks of the army, proving to have a natural talent for war. He would fight in Ebülhayr Paşa’s campaigns against Epirus and the border wars with the Danubian Principalities and the Karamanids, eventually working his way up to the commander of a unit of two hundred akinji cavalry[3] stationed on the eastern frontier. With the outbreak of the civil war, Shkozë and his men were transferred westward where they spent several years fighting Mehmedist forces in the Albanian borderlands. In 1516, when fighting suddenly shifted westwards, Shkozë was able to convince his and another unit of akinji to desert across the border. Returning to his old haunts, he saw an opportunity to take power in the anarchic Albania. He would ally with Gjon Zevisi, who ruled much of the south, and with their help he would conquer the other Albanian statelets in a four-year-long lightning campaign. By making common cause with many of the minor noble families and local monasteries, he was able to break the power of the major families and remove the threat they posed to his rule. In 1520, he inherited Zenevisi’s lands through marriage to his daughter, an intelligent and capable woman named Afërdita, and finally felt secure enough to proclaim himself Prince of Albania, his capital at Berat.

    And, finally, there is Hungary. Once the Christian bulwark of the east, the union of the three kingdoms has fallen upon hard times as of late. No-one with eyes and half a brain could deny that Matthew the Raven was one of the greatest kings of his time, but the succession that he left behind upon his death in 1508 was anything but. He had spent much of his reign involved in centralizing efforts that had steadily eroded the power of the nobility across all three of his kingdoms, but he had failed to take into account that many of the magnates would have a grudge against him when he named his like minded eldest son, Ladislaus VII, as his heir and successor. When Ladislaus took the throne in his own right, his supposed illegitimacy--recall that it was he who was born scant months after the end of Alexandros II of Trapezous’ time in Esztergom--as well as his youth and inexperience made him the target of a conspiracy to elevate Julius Hunyadi, a distant cousin of Ladislaus’, to the throne. When word of this conspiracy reached the king, he attempted to have all of the plotters arrested, but this leaked and several of them were able to escape his grasp. Julius was one of them, and the resulting civil war lasted for three years.

    Croatia and Serbia backed Julius the most ardently, as he was an experienced commander and they wished for a strong soldier-king to protect them from the Ottomans, who still loomed large at the time. Because of this, the thick of the fighting took place in Lower Hungary, which like the Ottoman Balkans later would be devastated because of the back-and-forth of armies across its fields. While Ladislaus held the advantage at the beginning of the conflict because of the support of Hungary proper, many of the magnates would defect over to Julius as time wore on. The death blow for the king would come with the defection of the majority of the Black Army to Julius in 1511, as many of their captains believed he would be a better ruler and better paymaster. Recognizing that victory was now beyond his grasp, Ladislaus made preparations to flee with the remnants of the Black Army. He set fire to Eszetergom and Pest as a final act of defiance before withdrawing eastward into Austria, which was still part of the Holy Roman Empire. He appealed to Bogislaw to protect him, his vassal, from the predations of a foreign king, i.e. Julius, and Bogislaw, who had long been troubled by the influence the Hungarians wielded in the region, agreed. Julius was warned away from Austria, and ultimately concluded it wasn’t worth risking his crowns for and halted at the border.

    In the following years, Julius would turn his attention southwards, towards the Ottoman holdings in the Balkans. He did not intervene directly during the civil war, as he feared that the warring factions would come together to drive out the foreign invader, but instead spent the time winning the Balkan principalities to his cause, as they too hated the Turks. Several of the other rulers were eager to join battle immediately, but Julius advised caution--both because of fears of Turkish solidarity and because of his own need to deal with the restive magnate sin Hungary who felt that since they had brought him to the throne, he ought to be beholden to them. He hoped to emulate John I’s invasion of the Balkans with the (First) Holy League, and so reached out to many of the other Balkan rulers. The Venetians and Epirotes were busy, for obvious reasons, but the Albanians, newly reunited under Shkozë, and the Moreotes, under Andronikos, were both willing to take up the sword. Moldova, under the skilled and widely-known prince Bogdan the Blind, was in from the start, as he wished to undo the insulting tribute which the Turks had once levied upon his state. The last thing he wished to acquire--a Papal bull of crusade--was short in coming, however. Hyginus was occupied with events in Italy and felt that promulgating such a crusade could weaken his position at a crucial moment by sending the most devout of his followers to die in the Balkans. As such, he did not actually call for a crusade but instead sent a missive allowing Julius to proclaim a crusade himself. In March 1521, the Hungarian king did so, marking the beginning of the War of the Second Holy League.

    [1] The Karamanid bey Bayezid II had proclaimed the restoration of the Sultanate of Rûm in 1502, taking the regnal name Kayqubad IV.
    [2] This is one of the names proposed as the birth name of Mimar Sinan, a fairly prominent Ottoman general of probably Albanian descent. Whether or not he was an Albanian is unknown--his birth ethnicity is speculated to be everything from Armenian to Greek to Turkish to Albanian--but the argument for Albanianism is the one which I find most convincing.
    [3] Akinji were Ottoman light cavalry, primarily used for scouting and gathering supplies.
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    Part XLVI: The Ratetas Regency (1517-1525)
  • Eparkhos

    And now for something completely different!

    Part XLVI: The Ratetas Regency (1517-1525)

    The madness and subsequent purges of Alexios V had resulted in the death of most of the Trapezuntine aristocracy, an effect that was only intensified by the rapid rotation of regents for the restive David in 1515 and 1516. By the time Ratetas assumed the office of regent, he found that the usual source of usurpations, the nobility, had been ground into a fine powder and scattered to the wind. As such, with the church and the bureaucracy backing him, he was free to mold the Empire and David’s future rule however he saw fit. It was of immense luck for both that he chose well….

    Before he had even departed for the war on the Sangarios’ banks, Ratetas had struggled to set up a regency government around him. He had little administrative experience other than organizing resupply efforts for his ships, and he was fully aware that with his hold on power as tenuous as it was, picking the wrong second-in-command could result in the death or blinding of him and his entire family. With such high stakes, he naturally decided to play it safe, and raised his youngest son, a fairly minor member of the junior bureaucracy named Theophylaktos, to the position of mesazon, or Imperial chancellor[1]. While his father and several of his brothers and cousins took ship for Nikaia and the fighting there, Theophylaktos was left as regent for the regent at the young age of twenty-seven, forced to try and sort through the administrative hell that had been left behind by the chaos of the last decade. It was an uphill battle, to say the very least.

    The years of purges had engulfed not only much of the court but also many from the upper ranks of the Imperial administration, effectively decapitating the revenue and internal governance branches of the government, which had left many of the more far-flung parts of the empire to run around like headless chickens. Theophylaktos’ first action was to raise an experienced tax collector named Isaakios Aspietes to the newly created office of megasphoroeispraktoros, or national tax collector, who was charged with managing the collection of the numerous land and crop taxes which were owed by the citizens of Trapezous. Theophylaktos was also alarmed to find that the years of neglect had nearly led the Trapezuntine treasury to bankruptcy, a fact which his father’s expedition to the west was hardly helping. To keep solvency while a more permanent solution was worked out, he summarily raised a new tax, the kephoros, which taxed urban households by a total number of adult residents[2] at a certain percent. This infuriated the residents of the capital city, and Trapezous was engulfed by rioting members of the urban poor, who were already having a hard enough time making ends meet before they started being taxed for doing what they had been asked to do only months before[3]. Theophylaktos was able to scrape together the remaining eleutheroi and several bandons from the surrounding countryside to put down the rioters within a few days, but much of the city’s commercial district was damaged, many buildings have been set on fire during the chaos. It is at this time that Theophylaktos first developed the migraines which would plague him for the rest of his life. He also began to suspect that the cause of the state’s financial decline was due to wide scale embezzlement, and he embarked upon an anti-corruption crusade. Anyone caught stealing money from the state’s coffers was sold into slavery, while anyone caught with more than ten pounds worth of stolen gold was athalricized[4] in the mese of Trapezous[5]. He went so far as to review every material request from across the empire in the last decade with two dozen trusted companions, which resulted in the death or enslavement of more than a thousand corrupt desk jockeys. How much impact this actually had in the grand scheme of things is unknown, but once the Trapezuntine state income started to rebound after 1518, Theophylaktos chalked it up to this in greater part than he did the reformed tax collection system.

    With the immediate problem resolved, Theophylaktos was able to turn his attention to more esoteric matters. He believed that the reason for the widespread corruption and ineptitude in the bureaucracy was because there was no standardized way of testing the competency of aspiring civil servants. If nepotism and corruption played a large part in how many civil servants entered the service, then they would believe that such nefarious deeds would be acceptable to perform themselves. In order for the Trapezuntine bureaucracy to reach its full potential, all opportunities for misdeeds needed to be weeded out of the entry process; if a civil servant is kept away from corruption in his formative years and shown that the wages of corruption are only death and pain, then he will be incorruptible, out of fear if nothing else. But how to do so?

    The inspiration of the neosystemadomikon has been speculated to be everything from the contemporary Ming jishi system to a direct revelation from God himself to the mesazon after he ate too much cannabis one night. Regardless of its origin, the new Imperial exam system is arguably the most important product of not only the Ratetas regency but the reign of David the Great itself. Anyone, from the lowest provincial farmer to a member of the Imperial family itself, would be subject to the same, impossible-to-rig series of tests and examinations to determine their potential as a civil servant. Upon reporting to one of the twenty designated provincial testing site (located in the twenty largest towns within the empire, of course) the applicants would be subject to a basic literacy test, to weed out the morons and the scammers. Then they would be assigned a number--written as a complex formula, in the old Milesian system, which had been phased out in favor of Indo-Arabic numerals during Alexandros II’s reign and was impenetrable to anyone who hadn’t been trained in its use from childhood[6]--and told to report to the Imperial Testing Center in the capital. There, they would be processed by that number and randomly assigned to a tiny, fifty-square-foot room where they would be locked in for two days and a night to take the test, after which their papers would be stamped with another randomly selected formula with the same product and shuffled through three layers of test examiners, who would each grade one section, before finally being gathered together and reviewed by a fourth examiner, who would then certify the results and have them posted in a designated building outside palace. Those who passed would enter the Trapezuntine bureaucracy as civil servants.

    The desired curriculum of these applicants would vary greatly under successive aftokrators and mesazons, but the foru constants that persisted from the time of Theophylaktos onward were math, the natural sciences, law and the antiquites. The mesazon felt that math was necessary knowledge for the bureaucrats, who would almost certainly have to do calculations with some regularity, and the natural sciences would make sense as a subject of knowledge for men who would be working with practically all aspects of society. An understanding of the laws of the empire is just common sense, but the desire for knowledge of the antiquities is somewhat of a mystery, as Theophylaktos didn’t write much down about this. It is probable that he, like so many across Europe and the Near East, was obsessed with the idea of the renaissance man and felt that any good bureaucrat must be well-rounded. It would take several years for the neosystemadomikon to be fully implemented across Trapezous--the first class to make its way through the system entered civil service in 1522--but once it was completed it would dramatically help the ailing bureaucracy’s return to competency.

    The only other event of note on the homefront during Ratetas’ regency was a series of bad droughts and famines that affected the newly-conquered Inner Paphlagonia from 1531 to 1534. The region had already been devastated by years of warfare and constant back-and-forth raiding between the various Turkmen tribes and bands, Neo-Rumite forces hoping to finally put down these raider bands once and for all and of course the forces of Trapezous themselves, who were having more than a little bit of difficulty driving back the numerous enemies who were arrayed against them. The entire Black Sea littoral region was hit by a series of droughts in the first half of the 1530s, but the impact was felt the hardest in this region, which was naturally quite dry compared to the rainforests coasts of Pontos and the fertile valleys of Khaldea[7]. Ratetas had by now returned from conducting affairs in Nikaia, and was present to personally oversee the famine relief which his son propagated. Grain was shipped in from Pontos and from across the Black Sea, while hundreds of hapless farmers and their families were shuttled around to different parts of the empire to ease the burden placed upon Paphlagonia’s limited resources. The church also played a significant role in the affair, with Patriarch Dionysios opening the patriarchal coffers to succor the afflicted peoples of the region. Of course, the military presence in the provinces there was also stepped up to keep the Turkmen from taking advantage and they, too, needed to be fed, but on the whole it was an improvement for the Paphlagonians.

    While the disasters and crisis of Ratetas’ tenure were thankfully few, this did not mean this time as regent was a period of little activity. Good fortune and the blood of too many good men (alongside a number of not-so-good-men) had allowed the regent to inherit a situation whence the power of the nobility and the independent-mindedness of the church had both been greatly curbed. Ratetas recognized this and knew that he could not let this bout of good fortune go to waste. He pursued a series of policies aimed at keeping the nobility in their place--namely, entirely subservient to the emperor and his officers--with multiple angles of attack.

    Much of the land and estates both physically and economically of the men who had been executed by Alexios remained in legal limbo long after his death. According to the laws which had been promulgated during the chaos of the 1340s, if a man were to be executed for treason then his land would be returned to the state; the law here was crystal clear, there was no room for interpretation. However, if this person had been killed for his support of someone who later became emperor, then this seizure would be made void. Given that no-one was quite sure what the hell was going on in terms of property rights after Alexios’ bloodbath, Ratetas was jam-packed with requests from the next of kin of those who had been unjustly persecuted and who felt that they were owed their loved one’s land. Ratetas and Theophylaktos went through all of these listings with a fine-toothed comb, giving land back to those who they felt were worthy and denying the rest, which resulted in several hundred angry relatives of those killed during the purges taking but brigandry in the wilds of the mountains. This would be a recurring problem that would ultimately require the intervention of Tarkhaneiotes and several bandons to be done away with in a series of anti-highwayman campaigns throughout the 1530s. The greatest upshot of this affair, though, was that there was now several thousand acres of land which had formerly been possessed by the magnates that were sitting in Imperial bond, concentrated primarily in the newly-conquered frontier zones. Ratetas recognized the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by further reducing the power of the aristocracy and securing these new conquests by extending the bandon system into these regions. He invited several thousand Circassians, Armenians and other Orthodox/Apostolic peoples from across the region, many of whom had been forced into exile due to violence in their homelands, to settle in these regions in exchange for service: most took him up on his offer. In this manner, Ratetas was able to, in the five years between 1521 and 1526, almost completely secure the newly conquered lands in the west and south.

    Ratetas also undertook some numismatic reform, but this had little impact other than slightly altering the ratio of the precious metals within the baser denominations of the coins, and so has little standing in comparison to the other events of his regency. He, with the help of Theophylaktos, also promulgated a new codex of laws, the Nomos Davidos, in 1522, which was somewhat impressive in terms of scope but wound up being more of a confusing mess than anything else as it tried to balance precedent and unwritten laws from across Pontos in terms of value and apply them across all of the country at once, ultimately being discontinued in favor of the Nomos Basileus Davidos in the 1540s. Ultimately, the thing which Ratetas is best known for is what he didn’t do: rock the boat. By keeping a firm but gentle hand on the tiller domestically and cautiously expanding the empire’s territory, the admirable admiral was able to keep Trapezous on the right course throughout the usually chaotic years of a long regency, thus ensuring that the boy aftokrator would come into his own without a major crisis. After a seven-year-long regency and a lifetime of service, Ratetas died in his sleep in January 1524 at the age of seventy-four. Rather than selecting a regent to carry him through the forty-one days he was still legally a minor, David assumed the throne in his own right and was crowned on 13 March 1524.

    Khalaza David, o oikodomos, kai khalaza David, o katastrapheas….

    [1] The exact role of the mesazon varied greatly throughout history, and so it is difficult to truly name an English equivalent. The closest office is probably either chancellor or prime minister, but these are still rough analogs.
    [2] That is, adult men
    [3] Alexandros II had instituted a number of tax breaks and donatives in hopes of driving up Trapezous’ birth rate, so that it could compete with its neighbors. Many Trapezuntines had taken advantage of this, and as you might imagine they weren’t exactly overjoyed to now be taxed more for doing so.
    [4] To quote myself: This is the most extreme punishment recorded in Byzantine law. The subject of this punishment was whipped raw, then tied to a platform in the public square. They first had their fingers severed with a hacksaw, then their hands, then their forearms and then their arms up to their elbow. Their nose was skinned and then severed, after which the same was done to their legs. They were then blinded and left on the platform for three days in excruciating agony. Finally, they were set on fire and burned to death, which no doubt was a mercy. This punishment is recorded for only two individuals in Byzantine history, those being the perennial rebels Basil the Copper-hand and Ioannes the Athalricist.
    [5] That is, the city center
    [6] Alexandros II also completed the long-awaited Nikephorian Reforms, which had been proposed by the philosopher Nikephoros Gregoras in the 14th Century. They were, namely, switching to Arabic numerals and adopting a slightly altered Julian calendar, i.e. the OTL Gregorian Calendar.
    [7] Khaldea refers to the Lykos Valley and the surrounding country of rivers and valleys. It had previously been referred to solely as Lykonia, but the expansion of Trapezuntine influence in the region had led to its renaming.
    Part XLVII: The War of the Second Holy League (1521-1522)
  • Eparkhos

    Part XLVII: The War of the Second Holy League (1521-1522)

    As King Julius of Hungary and his allies streamed across the Ottoman Empire’s northern and western frontiers, it seemed as if that venerable dynasty was facing its deathblow. The once-proud state had been devastated by years of civil war, attacks from the east and west, and its coffers and barracks lay fallow. The grand vizier couldn’t muster more than a few thousand men to defend his realm, and its final demise seemed inevitable as hordes of invaders streamed towards the City of the World’s Desire. However, with his back against the wall and little left to lose, Ebülhayr Paşa would use every resource available to him, pulling out all the stops he could to take as many of the Crusaders down with him as he could.

    The Ottoman Empire in Europe could be divided into three rough geographic regions, a fact which the Crusaders had taken into account. The Bulgarian plains, stretching across the Danube banks north of the Balkan Mountains, were thinly populated thanks to several decades of constant back-and-forth raiding and the losses of the Second Ottoman Civil War and thus provided a direct route towards the capital that could only be easily halted by the mountains themselves. Further south, the plains of Thrake were the heartland of the Ottoman state and could only be accessed through the passes north and west, and thus could be fairly easily defended. And, of course, the west was dominated by mountains and river valleys that in some ways resembled the rough countries of the Caucasus. Of course, this latter region still played host to a number of independent-minded Vlach bands and hundreds of Turkish brigands and highwaymen who had been forced out of their homes by Ebülhayr Paşa’s purges. The plan, as outlined by the members of the League in the weeks leading up to the invasion, was fairly simple. Julius and Bogdan the Blind would attack into Bulgaria, quickly securing the Danube basin and pushing southwards to the mountains, where they would fight through to the mountains, which they would hold and secure as a launching point for an offensive the next year. Meanwhile, the Albanians and Moreotes would invade the west, hopefully making common cause with the Turkish hold-outs and the Vlachs of the region against the Sublime Porte. If everything went according to plan, then by the end of the year they would have pushed to the eastern edge of the Rhodopes and secured everything west of there, possibly including Salonika as well. As soon as the war began, the Hungarian and Moreote fleets would strike into the Aegean[1], clearing it of Ottoman ships, while the Moldovans would perform a similar strike against Ottoman fleets in the Black Sea, possibly with Trapezuntine help if it could be secured. The goal of this naval offensive was to cut the supply lines between Europe and Asia, which would significantly reduce the amount of food and men the Sublime Porte could raise to fight in the former region and lengthen the time it took to move men from the east into the west. If everything went off without a hitch, a Crusader army would be sitting in Constantinople by the autumn of 1522. It was understandably believed that the Ottomans would be unable to muster enough of an army to pose a serious threat to any of the armies, as they were exhausted from the civil war and what men remained under arms were scattered across the Ottoman realm.

    The Ottoman plan was far less well-defined. Ebülhayr Paşa had been caught flat-footed by the Crusader attack, and was left scrambling to muster a response. As Julius and his confederates had suspected, the Ottoman army was in shambles after the civil war, and there were less than 10,000 men scattered across the entirety of the Empire, many of them engaged in struggle against Turkish diehards[2] in the remote and difficult-to-fight-in areas. Even worse, the Ottomans were teetering on bankruptcy because of the loss of tax revenues, so he couldn’t exactly just hire mercenaries to make up for it. The plan which the grand vizier created was panic-driven and uninspiring, but it might be enough to keep his state afloat. His plan was to abandon most of the Bulgarian plains, bar only a few hardened fortresses which could be used to slow down the Crusader advance. The Ottomans would fight on in the west, using the ridges and valleys of the Lower Balkans as defensive bulwarks against the Albanians and the Moreotes, who he (rightfully) saw as the weak links in the alliance against him. While the Crusaders were being slowed down there, he would scrape together as many men as he could by whatever means possible--conscription and rushed training, the ‘borrowing’ of mamluks, taking loans from any available source to raise mercenaries--to meet them on the field of battle. He had little faith in this plan, but he was driven by desperation and a belief that God would stand with him against the infidels. Of course, God helps those who help themselves, so he knew he would have to make the best of a bad situation to receive the favor of the divine. As such, he swallowed his pride and several decades of diplomatic fiascos and wrote to one of his coreligionists….

    At sea, the Crusaders were victorious against the Ottomans on a scale that no-one had dared to imagine. Ebülhayr Paşa had sent much of the Ottoman fleet down the coast of the Aegeean to sealift men and supplies from his territories around Smyrne, but had done so just before word of the putting out of large fleets from Moldova and Nafplion reached him. While he desperately tried to recall this armada, they continued to lumber down the coast. The Moreotes and Hungarians quickly caught word of this embarking from sympathetic islanders and they, along with several dozen Hospitaller ships who were glad to have helped in the struggle against the infidels, vectored onto the Ottoman armada. At the Battle of the Aignoussa Strait in late February, the Turkish fleet was caught off-guard and utterly destroyed. As the ships passed between the Aignoussa Islands between Khios and the mainland, a Hungarian fleet appeared in their rear, driving them forward with thunderous cannons. The naval paşa broke off several of his warships to defend against this attack, denuding the rest of the fleet just in time for the Moreote and Hospitaller fleets to appear at the front of the formation. With their forces split, the Turkish transports were ravaged by the combined arms of the Orthodox and the Catholics, with some twenty-seven being sunk, eleven captured and six driven aground on the islands, whence their crews were promptly slaughtered by the islanders or died of thirst some time later. The allies, in comparison, lost only four Hungarian galleys[3], two Moreote galleys, a Moreote galleass and no Hospitaller ships, effectively crippling the Ottoman fleet. The crusaders would then be able to blockade the coasts of the Ottoman Empire to further cripple their economy and ability to move troops. The Moldovans won a smaller battle in the Black Sea quite handily a few weeks later, confining the Ottomans to the Sea of Marmora alone.

    Meanwhile, on land, the Crusaders were making swift advances against the forces of the Sublime Porte. The Moldovans had a great deal of experience in forcing crossings of the Danube thanks to their years of raiding against the infidels, and as such were able to secure a half-dozen bridgeheads and fording points across the Great River within a few weeks of the invasion beginning. As such, the commander of the 3,000-strong force of light cavalry and skirmishers that the vizier had sent to delay the advance of the enemy into Bulgaria, Alexandros Paşa, turned his attention against the Moldovans. The Ottoman force attacked and successfully defeated the Moldovan force at Kamaka (OTL Oryahovo), driving them back into the river, but this would prove to be a Pyrrhic victory. While Alexandros Paşa and his men were busy fighting off the Moldovans, they failed to notice or stop the large Serbo-Hungarian army--some 25,000 men under Julius himself--emerging onto the plains from the west. Julius fell upon the Ottoman army like a bolt from on high, routing the Ottomans with heavy casualties and capturing the Paşa himself. With the chief force sent to stop him completely annihilated, Julius and Bogdan would spend the following weeks securing the Bulgarian plains and the passes across the Balkan Range. The Danube essentially acted as a tether, carrying in addition to its usual trading barges the chain of boats that kept the Moldovan and Serbo-Hungarian force fed and stocked. The greatest impact of this was that it allowed the Crusaders to remain free from the pillaging and looting that usually defined military campaigns of this period, which greatly endeared them to the local Bulgarians and gave them a leg up over the Turks. By these manners, the entirety of the Bulgarian plain had been secured within a few months. By the end of July, Julius sat on the northern end of the Gabrovo Pass, mulling over an offensive into Thrake itself.

    You see, while the Crusaders were making excellent time in the north, the Albanians and the Moreotes were doing anything but. Both Andronikos and Jozë had hoped that the local irregulars would aid them in their drive against Constantinople, but in truth they did anything but. The Turkish bandits of the western mountains had concluded that while Ebülhayr Paşa hated them and would try to kill them all, the infidels would try to do the same thing and, even worse, try to force them to adopt their heathen faith. As such, many of the Turks and Turkmen had taken up arms against both groups, dramatically slowing the advance of allied forces in the west. Andronikos was forced to contend with constant harassment against his supply lines as he pushed northwards into Thessalia, which forced him to split off large sections of his army to fend off these raiders. Jozë, meanwhile, switched tack entirely and struck directly against the Turkish bandits as well as the Ottoman garrisons of the region itself, using the excellent mobility of his light horsemen and highlander infantry to cordon off regions of the frontier and beat them down, which would, after several months, allow him to clear a path through the border zone into the Ottoman heartland. Because of these delays, the western allies were completely out of position by midsummer, the Moreotes having failed to even reach the Giannitsa swamps west of Salonika, which was their goal for the end of May, while the Albanians had yet to reach the Axios Valley, which was also their goal.

    With the western allies utterly failing to hold up their end of the plan, Julius was left to contemplate a strike against Constantinople itself. After all, the Ottomans were quite weak as was, seemingly having devoted all of their forces to holding the western mountains against the Albanians and the Moreotes. If he trusted the plan, then it was entirely possible his weaker allies could be defeated piecemeal, which would allow the forces of the false prophet to turn their full forces to him, making it a much tougher fight than it would be otherwise. He should strike now while the opportunity was available to him and there was nothing between him and the City of the World’s Desire, not wait until the opportunity to achieve the dream of so many kings passed from him. Bogdan was unwilling, feeling that they should wait for the certainty of victory, which Julius considered to be foolhardy at best. The road before them was open! And so, in August 1521, Julius crossed the mountains with his army, bound for the City of Constantine itself.

    However, the king had made one fatal miscalculation: There was in fact an Ottoman army present in Thrake, a comparatively small force of 11,000 that Ebülhayr Paşa had scraped together from conscripts, mercenaries and garrison forces. He had managed to secure loans from a number of Armenian banking houses, and with this he had hired several thousand Turkmen from Anatolia to supplement the small force of native troops that he had raised. This was no great army, but it was still an army and a somewhat coherent one that could, under the right circumstances, pose a threat to the Hungarian invasion force. Ebülhayr Paşa was a cagey son-of-a-bitch, and as he anxiously followed the progression of Julius and his army into Thrake, he knew that he had an opportunity for a long-odds victory if he played his cards right. The future of Islam in Europe was riding on the outcome of this campaign, and he was determined to stand strong.

    As Julius advanced deep into Thrake, he met surprisingly little resistance. As he advanced, the militias and raiding forces that he had been expecting vanished in full retreat, universally yielding the field of battle to the Crusaders. Across the mountains now, the Hungarians didn’t even try to keep up the Danube supply chain, instead pillaging as they went. This both weakened their own ability to resupply and angered the locals, which led to a revival of the Greek self-defense militias of the civil war, who now fought alongside the Sublime Porte to drive out their coreligionists. Julius was taking minor but constant losses from these raiders, which he effectively ignored in favor of a constant advance. He could smell blood in the water, he wasn’t going to give up now when he was so close to victory. By the time he had reached Edirne, his men were exhausted and considerably fewer in number, as well as surrounded by several hundred angry riders who were determined to achieve revenge for their ruined homes, but he paid this no mind. When word reached him that Ebülhayr Paşa and an army were gathered at Ergenoupoli[4] (OTL Uzunkopru), he decided to engage and try to crush the Ottoman army in hopes that he could advance to and winter before or within the walls of Constantinople.

    After several days of maneuvering, the Hungarian and the Greco-Ottoman army met along a ridge line several dozen miles north of Ergenoupoli, with Ebülhayr Paşa holding the defensive position atop the ridge. He knew his force was fragile, and was hoping that the Hungarians would exhaust themselves on uphill charges against his somewhat fortified position, after which they could be ground down by the Turkmen and by the Greek irregulars. Julius, meanwhile, hoped to pin down the Ottoman forces atop the ridge with his center and right, then circle around with his overloaded left to pin them down and crush them[5]. The night before the battle, both armies were comforted by their respective clergy, urging valor to them all.

    That dawn, on the morning of September 28, Julius deployed his forces in the pre-dawn chill, hoping to catch the Ottomans off guard with an early morning attack. As the sun split the sky, the Hungarians advanced against the Turkish host, moving quickly up the ridge. However Ebülhayr Paşa had suspected that something like this would happen and so had mustered his men even earlier, successfully catching the Hungarians by total surprise. As the Crusaders plowed into the Ottoman pike hedges, their lines soon descended into chaos. With the sun rising at the Ottoman back, their attackers were severely impaired, and so many of them began to fire wildly with their crossbows and arquebuses. Julius was among his men, rallying them and pushing them forward, where they were beginning to push through the Ottoman center as the demoralized conscripts proved unable to hold against the prime of the Black Army. Ebülhayr Paşa too joined the fray in person, knowing that the crucial moment of the battle was at hand. The air was filled with screams and gunshots and the clamor of battle, making it almost impossible to hear shouted orders, and the Crusaders struggled to see even the men beside them. Under these circumstances, it is entirely understandable that an inexperienced soldier mistook King Julius, who was riding horizontally across the breadth of his army, for an Ottoman commander. The Hungarian monarch was knocked from his saddle by a billhook and dragged under the hooves of his horse until it too was killed and fell upon him, finally killing him. With their leader dead, the Hungarians began to falter, and Ebülhayr Paşa was able to lead his own left into the weak Hungarian right and shatter it, causing them to rout. The rest of the Crusader line soon followed, and Ebülhayr Paşa ordered the horsemen to begin their pursuit. The Serbo-Hungarians would flee in all directions, but only a handful of the 15,000 men who had taken the field that day would escape back across the frontier into Christian lands.

    The impacts of Ergenoupoli were immense. The Serbo-Hungarian forces withdrew from their positions south of the Balkans, eventually retreating back across the pre-war border with only a few minor areas along the frontier still holding. As soon as word of Julius’ death reached Krakow, Sigismund the Prussian, who had inherited the titles of Poland Lithuania after Jan Olbracht’s death, proclaimed himself the rightful King of Hungary, Croatia and Serbia and began making preparations for an invasion of the Pannonian lowlands the following spring. Many of the Hungarian magnates also revolted in support of him, as they believed that a distant king across the mountains would be preferable to any other potential ruler. The sudden exit of the Hungarians, who had been the lynchpin of the Second Holy League, caused the organization to crumble. Sensing an opportunity to get while the getting was good, Andronikos sued for peace with the Ottomans. Ebülhayr Paşa was more focused with events playing out elsewhere and so was willing to give up the former Despotate of Thessalia to the Moreotes, an unexpected windfall. The Moldovans, meanwhile, would negotiate with the Ottomans for territorial and commercial gains. The Ottomans were on the upswing but were still quite fragile, so Ebülhayr Paşa didn’t want to risk carrying on such a war indefinitely. The Moldovans would annex several fortresses along the banks of the Danube to secure their control of the river trade, but it was much less than what Bogdan had aspired to before the war began.

    However, despite these defections, Albania stood alone against the Ottomans. Even as peace settled over most of the region, the Albanian-Ottoman Wars had just begun….

    [1] Hungary (or more accurately, Croatia) had a number of galleys that had been built up to help project power in the Aegean. Albania, in contrast, lacked ports thanks to the extensive Venetian holdings in the area, and so were constricted to wars on land.
    [2] Ebülhayr Paşa had never been able to completely secure much of the frontier zone, and many of the Turkish refugees and survivors in the region had taken up the mantle of ghazi to raid against those who they considered to be heretical puppets of the decadent and incompetent Greeks. Some of them picked up the mystical Sufi orders who also opposed the Greeks, and this would be the genesis of Sufism in the Balkans for all intents and purposes.
    [3] Hungary had only a few galleys with little experience, and as they were facing the actual warships they took the brunt of the losses in the battle.
    [4] The town was named Ergen Kopru by the Turks, but given its majority Greek status and the pro-Greek slant of the regime in Konstantinople, it reverted to a Hellenized version after Ebülhayr Paşa’s victory.
    [5] ‘Overloading’ means assigning more forces to one flank than the center and/or other flank, similar to the flank overloading that the Greek hoplites performed during the Classical and Hellenistic Periods.
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    Part XLIX: The Opening of the Davidine Period (1523-1525)
  • Eparkhos

    Part XLIX: The Opening of the Davidine Period (1523-1525)

    Loukas Ratetas had, during his long regency, secured the throne of the Megalokomnenoi for the young aftokrator David. Like Anastaios or Tzimiskes before him, he had overseen a period of domestic quiet and successful campaigns abroad that would allow his ward to assume the office of ruler under the best possible circumstances. The treasury had recovered from its nadir during the reign of Alexios V, while the bandons had recovered much of their strength after the brief civil war during the early regency. Thanks to the acts and perseverance of Ratetas, David would be able to open his reign with a flurry of action, a trend which would define his long and successful reign….

    On the night of 13 March 1523, hundreds of candles were lit in the streets of Trapezous. Dozens of small processions formed in all parts of the town, pouring towards the center of the town before merging together into a single parade. Thousands of Trapezuntine marched down the mese, chanting prayers and acclimations as they approached the Hagia Sophia[1]. Icons rose above the marchers, depicting Saint Eugenios, Saint Basileios and the many military saints affiliated with the Komnenoi. At the head of this great procession were the eleutheroi, marching in perfect formation under arms, the chi-rho painted on their shields and regimental flags flying in the wind. At the front of the eleutheroi, atop a glistening white horse, rode David himself, who chose to conceal himself in hooded robes similar to a monk’s. After reaching the Upper Town, the procession made a sharp turn onto the road leading to the Hagia Sophia, which sat rigidly against the darkness of the night sky. The procession circled around the cathedral before finally arriving at its eastern gate. David and his guards dismounted and entered the church, followed by many of the Trapezuntines. In the chamber of the cathedral, David was officially installed as aftokrator in a two-hour long ceremony by Patriarch Dionysios, before they turned and went to the steps of the church. The Crown of Komnenos, which had lain in state since the death of Alexios V a decade before, was produced, now with several pendulata[2] attached as the old Roman crowns had been[3]. As the sun rose over the mountains to the east, the crown was lowered onto David’s head to the cheers of the people, officially marking the beginning of his sole rule.

    David’s coronation was an excellent piece of political theater. He had already been crowned thrice--firstly at the behest of Basileios Mgeli in 1514 to mark the beginning of his minority rule, then again by Loukas Ratetas to secure his legitimacy as regent, and then a third time in Nikaia to mark the official beginning of the personal union between the two Greek states back in 1520--so a fourth coronation would have seemed completely unnecessary to most rulers. In David’s eyes, however, it served a vital purpose. Firstly, it was a public announcement that from here on out he would be a true aftokrator, ruling alone, a matter which David felt important to convey given the highly colorful opening period of his regency and the gains which had been made under Ratetas, which he felt could lead one of his sons--who he regarded as half-brothers--to try and usurp him. Secondly, it brought him into the eyes of the public for the first time since his second coronation eight years before. He hoped to present the image of a young, promising and most importantly sane ruler, as his minority had been plagued by fears that he would inherit his father’s madness and jealous rage. Finally, the symbolism of the rising sun played on the already improving fortunes of the Trapezuntine state and his relation to it in the eyes of God. David felt that he ought to remind the people that while Ratetas had presided over many successes, these gains had only been possible because God supported him as the rightful monarch of the Greeks and the Romans. As you can imagine, growing up under the constant threat of deposition--Ratetas had been well-regarded enough after his victories in the west that he might have gotten away with a coup, and it was widely rumored that if he was unwilling to, then Sabbas Tarkhaneiotes, the victor of Kastamone, had the guts to do it--had made David conscious of the volatile nature of court politics, and he felt an urgent need to insure himself from the threats of usurpation.

    It has also been suggested that the formal and ornate coronation process was an attempt by David to shore up what he feared could be a publicity problem regarding his appearance. Alexandros II had been a black-haired, brown-eyed man with tanned, bronze skin, hooded eyes and a hooked nose, and Alexios V had borne a strong resemblance to him, with a slightly darker skin tone and curlier hair thanks to Martha’s Levantine extraction. David….was not. He was fair-skinned, bearing more resemblance to a Kartvelian than to a Pont or a Turk. He had straight brown hair and light brown eyes, with high, arching brows and a long, straight nose. Shockingly, this had never raised Alexios’ suspicion, but after his death it was widely speculated that David was the product of adultery on the half of Katsarina. He did not look the part of a Komnenos, and so he feared that he would not be treated as such. The ornate coronation was an attempt to legitimize himself further, as well as present himself to the people in such a manner that his glaring differences from his father weren’t so obvious.

    One of David’s chief activities as a youth--well, he was still a youth, being only sixteen years of age, after all--was the study of the annals of Trapezuntine history. One of his chief tutors, Alexios of Sinope, had written O Khronia Trapezousos, an extensive and in-depth history of Trapezous itself since 1088[4] and the Komnenian emperors of the Trapezuntine Empire, and his instructor had successfully imbued him with both a love for history itself and an understanding that those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. In 1513, he had written a short text describing the greatest flaws of each aftokrator since Alexios III, who had reigned back in the mid-1300s. The most common problems were succession and heirs, two deeply intertwined problems. Manouel III had been overly kind and generous to his sons, and for this he had been poisoned by Alexios IV[5]. Alexios was in turn murdered--gruesomely beaten to death, in fact--by his eldest son, Ioannes IV, who was deposed by Alexandros I more than a decade later and later died under suspicious circumstances while in exile. Alexandros the Elder’s worst mistake was vacillating between which of his sons he wished to succeed him, which resulted in both of their deaths in the Brother’s War and the ascension of Alexandros II. Alexandros II had managed to dodge the assassin’s knife--at the time of writing, he was actually alive, albeit rotting in a dungeon in Stettin, of all places[6]--but had botched his succession by allowing Martha to screw up Alexios and Romanos, and then passing the throne to neither of them. Nikephoros I had been too trusting for his own good, while Alexios V had been far too paranoid to be a good ruler, as evidenced by his purges and mass executions. His demise had actually come from being too trusting, though, and allowing his literal scheming whore of a wife to remain in the palace, which had led to his ultimate assassination. David concluded that the best way to ensure his own survival and continued rule was to a) find a trustworthy and fertile wife who could help him govern and tend to dynastic matters, b) educate his children and have enough spares that one or two of them losing their minds wasn’t too much of a threat, c) designate a heir and make sure that his siblings weren’t going to cause trouble and, d) keep a healthy level of paranoia, but don’t go full-out Caligula like his father had. These conclusions would shape David’s palace policies and, to an extent, his domestic and diplomatic decisions regarding which foreign marriages to pursue, ultimately having an immense impact on the entirety of his reign.

    The first issue that David faced after assuming the throne and taking up the orb of rulership in his own right was marriage. As Alexios V’s reign-of-terror had demonstrated, choosing the right spouse was a matter of crucial importance for any ruler, if only because they would have immense influence on their children and heirs. David was already determined that he would not repeat the foolish errors of his father and grandfather, planning on keeping a constant eye on his wife to make sure she didn’t scheme against him and/or brutalize their heir to the throne as Anastasia and Martha had done, respectively. Ratetas had, thankfully, refused to promise David’s hand to the daughters or sisters of any foreign rulers--although he did not refrain from occasionally mulling over betrothing him to one of his daughters, even going so far as to try and push David and Anna Ratetasina, his youngest daughter, together in hopes that sparks would fly--so he was free to make a pragmatic decision. There were five Orthodox states--it should also be noted that David was a fanatically devoted follower of the Orthodox Church--who had potential matches amongst their royal families. There was of course Kartvelia, but by now there were more than a dozen current marriages between minor members of their respective royal families, so a marriage to a Kartvelian princess would have little strategic benefit other than binding the close states even closer together. Across the Black Sea, Moldova was a vital trading partner thanks to its domination of the Lower Danube, and it could be a very valuable partner against Ottoman revanchism, as well as the only other state on the Black Sea whose fleet could potentially rival the Trapezuntines. There was a slight problem, though, as Moldova was at war with the Golden Horde, and an alliance with them could imperil Trapezuntine holdings in Perateia. The Russian states were too distant to make good allies, and there was already a marriage alliance with Volga Novgorod conducted two generations prior. Finally, there was Morea, who had made an impressive series of gains against the Ottomans during the War of the Second Holy League and who could also form a pincer against future Turkish threats. However, they were quite distant, and communications between them such as would be necessary to fight such a war against the Ottomans would have to pass through Ottoman or Karamanid territory, which would effectively cripple any value they had as potential allies. The Palaiologoi also had a competing claim to the glory of old Rhomaion, and so an agreement with them would be quite distasteful to a ruler who was as mindful of his tenuous legitimacy as David was.

    And so, in the end, marriage was proposed with the Moldovans. Bogdan was receptive to an alliance with the Trapezuntines, who he also saw as potentially valuable allies against the Turks, and so after a brief back and forth a betrothal was agreed between David and Ionela of Moldova[7]. Ionela had been born in 1505 and so was several years older than the aftokrator. According to all sources, she was a very quiet and asocial woman who had no real interest in anything other than reading and knitting. As you might imagine, she was a well-known figure in the Trapezuntine court scheme and became infamous for hosting debauched parties[8].

    After securing a marriage alliance in his first year, David then turned his attention to the politics of ruling. He agreed with most of the domestic policies which had been enacted by Ratetas and so left them in place, although he did ease the taxes which were placed on the church’s land holdings--not on the church itself, mind you, but on their properties instead--an act which brought him much favor with the Pontic Patriarchate. In early 1524, he embarked from Trapezous for Davidoupoli, touring his territories and subjects in the Nikaian Empire. He was most displeased with how Bishop Lefkos, who had been running things since Ratetas left, had been handling the people and the taxes in this region--essentially using them as a base to advance his personal riches and properties rather than preparing them for the inevitable conflict with the Turks--and so he promoted him upwards to regent for his territories in the newly-created territory of Western Scythia, which consisted solely of Ginestra and the small force of pirate-hunting galleys posted there. With Lefkos out of the way, he assigned one Konstantinos Lakharnas, a veteran of the Nikaian Rising, to reform the administration in the west along the lines of the existing state apparatus in Trapezous proper.

    It was very important to David that the bandons be made ready for war as quickly as possible, for he was planning war. He was driven by many reasons, among them a desire to legitimize himself even further and prove that the victories in the west had truly been because of God’s favor and not because of the luck and/or skill of his regent. However, he was far from a prideful fool blinded by hubris, and geopolitical concerns always remained at the back of his mind. Were he to complete his God-given mission to restore the Roman Empire to its pre-Manzikert borders--whether he actually believed this or not is a matter of great debate, with most historians concluding that he was too much of a pragmatist to actually believe it and instead used it as a propaganda tool--he would need to secure strategic depth for his empire. As it was, the Trapezuntines were a coastal empire dependent on sea travel to connect its far-flung territories, which stretched more than a thousand kilometers along the coast of the Black Sea. Its landward territories had little strategic depth and could be rather easily penetrated by hostile forces, especially from along the Neo-Rûmite border. Trapezous needed to push inland to secure its coastal territories and allow it to reclaim more of its rightful territories.

    David’s desired target was the Neo-Rûmite Sultanate. They had radically reformed--transitioning from the Karamanid Beylik to the Neo-Rûmite Sultanate around the turn of the 16th Century is just the most visible example--under the long reign of the successful Bayezid II/Kayqubad IV into a centralized and formidable state that dominated Inner Anatolia and could project power out in all directions. David feared the growth of Neo-Rûmite power; they were already strong enough to pose a serious threat to the Trapezuntines before they had reformed, and now their power had greatly expanded and was growing every year as their network of irrigation canals made the valleys and plains of the east bloom. He needed to strike now and with overwhelming force to nip this threat in the bud. Tokat, Chorum and Sebasteia (OTL Sivas) all glittered just a few dozen miles from the border. He was sure that if he struck with the full force of Nikaia and Trapezous that the Neo-Rûmites would be severely weakened, if not crippled. He began preparing for mobilization, hoping to launch his desired invasion in the spring of 1525.

    However, events would intervene to preclude David’s planned war. In the summer of 1524, a wave of desperate messengers arrived in Trapezous from Tbilisi, begging for David to ride to the aid of his cousin like his father and grandfather before. The damned Mongols had come, 100,000 of them[9], and the Caucasian Gates had been overrun. Aleks’andretsikhe had fallen, and there were only two more fortresses between the hordes and the valleys. David knew at once that he could not allow the Golden Horde to push into Kartvelia, both for the sake of his ally and himself, and so he marshalled his men for war….

    [1] That is, the Hagia Sophia of Trapezous. The Hagia Sophia faces westward, so the procession had to circle around it to face the rising sun.
    [2] Pendulata are the strands of pearls and gemstones that dangle off the side of most Byzantine crowns, as well as the Hungarian Crown of Saint Steven. David here has had pendulata added to the usually penduless crown to symbolize his connection to the Byzantine rulers of old.
    [3] Rather than repeating myself, I’ll just say that I’ve recently started watching Stargate: SG-1 and it’s quite good.
    [4] After Manzikert, the Gabrades family had set themselves up as semi-autonomous rulers of Trapezous and the surrounding territories, only being returned to the Empire proper after 1143. A branch of the family had clung on as rulers of Theodoro until Alexandros II’s reconquest of that region in 1475, at which time they were stripped of their holdings and resettled in Khaldeia, where they remained until this story’s present.
    [5] OTL We don’t know that Alexios IV died in this manner, but it is widely suspected that his death was at the very least hastened by his scheming sons.
    [6] After abdicating, Alexandros II had gone into exile in Tmutarakan for several years. After Alexios murdered Nikephoros and seized power, he wisely fled Trapezuntine lands altogether, going westwards to Esztergom in 1507. Ladislaus V allowed him to take up residence in his court, further fueling rumors of his illegitimacy, and upon the outbreak of the civil war he had taken up arms in service of his possible son and patron. As Ladislaus was driven into Austria and forced to seek Bogislaw’s shelter, Alexandros had taken up residence in Vienna in 1511. After a time, he had grown bored with his life and court and had raised a company of mercenaries. He had been hired by the Duke of Brunswick to help him put down a peasant revolt in 1514, after which he was kept on the payroll as a security force. With the outbreak of the War of the Three Leagues, he successfully organized a defense of the Duchy in 1517 and much of 1518 before he was finally defeated by Bogislaw. Alexandros was then thrown into a dungeon in Stettin, where he would stay for the next six years. As the Bauernkrieg raged on in the 1520s, the newly-installed Konrad was forced to seek help from any available quarter, and so recruited Alexandros--now known as Alexander the Greek--to lead one of his armies, which he did with much success. In 1531, with the end of the war in Saxony, Alexandros was rewarded for his service with the lordship of the County of Bentheim-Tecklenburg, a small county on the border with the Rhinemouths. He would remarry and have one son by his German wife, Nikola von Rheda, before dying in 1534 at the age of 76. His son, Alexis, would reign for several decades to come and play a notable role in the Reformation.
    [7] Romanian chronicles of this period have an annoying habit of only listing the sons of rulers, so her name is a guess
    [8] This is sarcasm
    [9] A cookie to whoever gets this very obscure reference.
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    Appendix A: December 1523, Sarai
  • Eparkhos

    The update is ballooning, but I hope to have it out by tonight. I hope this can tie y'all over.

    Appendix A: December 1523, Sarai

    Nogai rode across the plains, his own ragged breath barely audible over the thundering of his horse’s hooves and the thunder of cannonade behind him. He glanced over his shoulder, anything other than the blood-red sky and circling carrion birds obscured by the rollicking of his mount. Every fiber of his being was screaming at him to keep riding as far and as fast he could, his sweaty hands clenched around the reigns, but he needed to know what was behind him.

    He pulled his reign and tried to turn, but his horse refused to follow, rearing and thrashing as it tried to continue its flight. Nogai clung to its mane like he always did, but the coarse hair slid out of his fingers like water and he fell for the first time since his childhood, the void beneath him seeming to suck him in. He hit the ground like a stone and instinctively rolled, then froze as he caught sight of the city behind him.

    Sarai--he had spent enough time in the capital to know it like the back of his hand--was engulfed in flame, great black plumes of smoke from burning homes and funeral pyres rising into the hellish sky. Beside it, the Volga lay choked with bodies, a carpet of floating black that stretched from bank to bank. As he watched, the minarets of the great mosque were hauled down, crashing to the ground with the sound of doom. A swarm of men scurried over the palace and merchants’ quarters, looting and carrying off everything they could. Wagons lay scattered around the edge of the city, piled high with the riches of the khanate and surrounded by chain gangs of women and children, all screaming, crying out for mercy.

    Something tightened around his ankle and he glanced over his shoulder to see that his horse had been caught by another rider, no, riders. A half-dozen men galloped towards him, one carrying an orange horsetail banner, with bows held at full taut. At once, they loosed, and the arrows hurtled towards him....

    Nogai Ahmed Khan sat bolt upright, chest heaving. His hands raced to his chest and he felt all over his torso, searching for arrow wounds, then to his relief realized it had been a dream. He fell back into bed, panting, thanking God and all the angels that it had just been a dream. His stomach still churned, though, and after trying to ignore it for several agonizing minutes he stood and started to pace.

    The tiles of the palace floor were cold, colder than the pit in his stomach even. He had had a similar dream once before, on the night before his victory at Taipaq five years ago. That dream had come true; with the swinging of his left flank around the edge of the Uzbek line he had forced them to yield the field entirely. Could this dream come true? Was it a premonition of the fall of his empire? He shuddered, praying it wasn’t. Still, if it was, it could be a gift. God would not have given him this forewarning if he intended to abandon him. He paused, replaying the dream over in his mind. He recognized the banners of the invaders, they belonged to the personal guard of the Uzbek khan. Surely, that meant that if he did not change his ways, then the Uzbeks would destroy his empire. He ought to shift his men eastward and strike against them as soon as possible, to make sure they could not bring about his ruin.

    He shook his head. No, he couldn’t do that. The Russians and the Poles grew stronger every year, and if he turned his full force against the Uzbeks they would strike him in his back and destroy him that way. He sighed, kicking the frame of his bed. That was the root of the problem, after all. The cowardly farmers bred faster than his people did, and they were growing bolder as the disparity between them grew. Eventually, they would overwhelm him or his successors by sheer weight of numbers, it was just a matter of time.

    Nogai paused, thinking. Numbers wouldn’t be a problem if he kept them fighting each other. In the time of his forefathers, the Russian and Polish states had been utterly smashed and reduced to squabbling fiefdoms, all paying tribute to him while fighting him again. What if he did so again? Did he even have enough men to do so? It would be much easier if he put fear back into them, sent them running like rats like Subotai had once done, and destroyed them without fighting them….

    “Servant!” he shouted.

    A Ruthenian servant, his name Vladimir or Dmitri or something, scrambled in through a side door.

    “Yes, my master?” he said in an irritated tone.

    Nogai frowned, deciding not to waste his time beating him for his insolence. He’d have him sold south to the Ottomans soon enough. “Fetch Tuqtamiş.”

    “Yes, my lord.” The Ruthenian scurried out of the room, and he resumed pacing. A few minutes later, Tuqtamiş entered through the main door, surprisingly well-dressed for having been woken in the middle of the night. Nogai said as much.

    “I’ve found to always be prepared.” Tuqtamiş said in his typical polished tone.

    “Good for you,” Nogai said, knowing that he wasn’t going to get a straight answer. “Tell me, which of our neighbors is the weakest?”

    Tuqtamiş paused for a moment, eyes and lips pursed. “The Khanate of Turan or Great Perm, I believe. They’re both quite fragile, more coalitions of tribes than an actual khanate or chiefdom. I imagine we could crush them in a season or less.”

    Nogai shook his head. “No, I mean our settled neighbors. Novgorod, Lithuania, Moldova, them and their ilk.”

    Tuqtamiş paused again. “You mean settled neighbor? Feudal, or centralized, right?”

    Nogai nodded, and his secretary paused once again.

    “I believe,” he said, an unusual note of caution in his voice, “That that would be the Kartvelians. They’re a patchwork of lordships and estates, and probably couldn’t muster more than two tumens against us.” he paused again. “They’ve actually been rather aggressive towards us recently, their priests have been spreading their slave’s faith in the tribal territories on our side of the mountain. In fact, they actually spurred the Vainakhs to rebellion a few years ago, and because of them the Avars stopped paying tribute.”

    “What?!” Nogai shouted. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me?”

    “You didn’t ask, sir.”

    Nogai started to shout something, then cut himself off. Tuqtamiş was right. “If something like this happens again, let me know.”

    He turned and started pacing again. “We have what, seven tumens to their two? It’s time to put the fear of God back in them. When was the last time we raided them, anyway?”

    “Sometime around 1335, I believe. The Dzadhiks* went through around 1395, but they’ve been practically untouched since then.”

    “Good, send out the riders. Tell my vassals to gather here by the end of March.” Nogai said. Visions of victorious slaughter and raping-and-pillaging flashed through his mind. After a century and change of peace, Kartvelia would be brimming with loot and slaves. Hell, if it went well enough, he might be able to gather enough men to his banner to reduce the Russias once again and maybe even go after Poland or Hungary. If everything went well, he would go down in legend like Subotai or even Genghis….

    *This is a derogatory name for Temur-e-Lank; the Golden Horde’s khans did not consider him to be a real Mongol such as themselves.
    Part L: The Gates of Alexander (1455-1525)
  • Eparkhos

    Part L: The Gates of Alexander (1455-1525)

    In the middle years of the 15th century, Basileios of Funa and several companions had journeyed into the untamed wilds of the eastern Caucasian Mountains, hoping to spread the good news amongst the even wilder men of the region. The Avars, Vainakhs had the numerous other peoples of the eastern mountains had gained a reputation for martyring missionaries, and so it was to the shock of many that Funa was able to baptize several thousand converts from amongst the heathens, even securing the baptism of an Avar king, Rusalan I. The seed that Funa had planted would sprout like a mustard tree[1], as Rusalan and his successors, painting themselves as the Sword of Christ, unified much of the highlands under Christian rule and won a series of impressive victories against the pagans and the Muslims. This would prompt missionaries would enter the lands of the Muslim Golden Horde, an action which brought the ire of Sarai down upon them and sow the seeds of Saint Zphosas’ War[2], the largest conflict in the region since the War of the Caucasian Gates a quarter-century before.

    In the years after Rusalan’s consolidation of the Avar Highlands, the official support of an established state on the northern side of the mountains gave the Orthodox Church a sudden inroad into the tribal region which had so long defied their attempts at proselytization. Traveling through the previously-inaccessible Malla-Kheli pass[3], churchmen from Kartvelia and beyond could go eastwards into the lands of the Kumyks and the Lezgins, or westwards into the lands of the Vainakhs. Efforts at conversion were most successful in the latter two peoples. Despite the Vainakhs’ nominal subservience to the Golden Horde, the Kartvelians were able to keep them in their sphere of influence by projecting power through the Caucasian Gates, which allowed money, embassies and even armies to march north and support factions friendly to Tbilisi in the region. This state of affairs led to the rise of one Ma’aru, a mercenary captain of mixed Avar and Vainakh descent, in the late 1510s. Ma’aru was able to rally the Orthodox Vainakh bands to his banner and, with support from Tbilisi and Kunzakh, crush the pagan and Muslim Vainakhs. At the Battle of the Terka River--hereafter known as the Battle of the Ts’yehn River[4]--in 1519, Ma’aru’s alliance utterly annihilated his enemies, with some 1,500 Vainakhs and several hundred Avar and Kartvelian mercenaries routing 3,000 enemies (a mixture of Vainakhs and Muslim Circassians) and slaying so many that the river ran red with blood, hence the name. With this victory, Orthodox ascendancy in Ciscaucasia was confirmed almost indefinitely. Ma’aru established a capital at Zaur (OTL Vladikavkaz) and set about transforming his alliance into a functioning state.

    For the next few years, the Orthodox Vainakhs got along happily. The khan was distracted in the east, beating back invasions by the expansionist Uzbek Khanate, and as far as Sarai was concerned Ciscaucasia might have been on the moon. This happy state of affairs would end abruptly with the ascension of Nogai Ahmed to the khanate in 1521. Nogai Ahmed had been the victor against the Uzbeks at the great Battle of the Ural River in 1520, and had used this as a foothold to overthrow and murder his brother, the reigning khan Selim Ahmed[5]. Nogai Ahmed Khan was in a bad position from the outset. While he had succeeded in repulsing the Uzbeks from the western side of the Ural River, he had been unable to recover the vast swathes of the east which they still controlled. The Golden Horde controlled only the territories of the former Blue Horde; in effect, it had lost much of its eastern heartland, and as such would be greatly weakened as far as steppe empires went. The Russians were on the verge of reunification under the militarist Volga Novgorod, and they would soon pose a grave threat to the Khanate; the Polish-Lithuanians were growing in strength and were starting to push back against his realm’s western edge, and the Uzbeks would soon be able to push against his eastern frontier once again. If his state was going to survive the coming crisis, he needed to act swiftly and crush the upstart breakaways who were nibbling away at his borders to put the fear of God back into his tributaries. Only then, by presenting a united front to his many enemies, would he be able to keep his state alive and face down the many threats that were gathering against him from all directions. In the spring of 1524, he mustered six tumens--120,000 men--more than three-quarters of the men available to him, and marched southwards.

    Word of the approaching Mongol horde spread swiftly, and within a few weeks Ma’aru was able to scramble together some 6,000 men, an impressive number for the region but a woefully small force to take on the great khan. He sent out a call for aid to his coreligionists, which by now included the Circassians, the Kartvelians, the Trapezuntines, the Avars and the Lezgins. The latter two quietly ignored his pleas for help, as they themselves could easily become targets of the horde’s fury and so decided to sit this one out. The Circassians did the same, and the aftokrator David apologized for being unable to help but stated that he was busy with other matters, like not losing Perateia to a deluge of horsemen. This left Kartvelia to tentatively answer the call, with Vakhtang dispatching a few thousand mercenaries and volunteers to help Ma’aru in his war against the infidels. Most importantly, he allowed a small number of Vainakhs who had settled in the Pankisi Gorge in the preceding years to cross back over the mountains and aid their fellows in the coming struggle. At the time, Vakhtang considered this to be allowing his rebellion-prone subjects to go off and get themselves killed, essentially creating a self-resolving problem..

    Nogai Ahmed arrived in Ciscaucasia in June 1523. He made a circuit of the northern side of the mountains, reminding the Circassian vassals of their duties to supply him with gold and slaves and exacting the tribute that many of them had ‘misplaced’. He then sent embassies eastward to the Kumyks, who were under lose Horde control, threatening to quote ‘fall upon you like a bolt from on high, slaughter your men like pigs, rape and slaughter your women and sell your children in slavery in the distant lands of the Arabs, then grind your bones and scatter your dust across the breadth of the Caspian Sea’ if they did not submit to paying tribute. The Kumyks wisely did so, as did the Avars when confronted with a similar missive. With his flanks secured, the khan then plunged into Vainakhia(?) proper with a crossing of the Terek River in August.

    The resulting campaign was a literal and metaphorical massacre. Nogai Ahmed was a cagey ruler, and before he had embarked on his mission of vengeance he had made sure to study the Vainakhs and every element of his society. Upon concluding that the Vainakhs were some of the most clannish people on the planet, he quickly devised his master plan. After crossing the frontier, he raced for the heart of Vainakh territory, shrugging off enemy bands from all directions as they tried to assail the far superior Mongol force from all directions. His target was Nasare, the second largest settlement of Ma’aru’s state and home to one of the five bishoprics north of the mountains. He arrived at Nasare on 16 August, finding that many of the local Vainakhs and their allies had holed up there to protect those who were unable to accompany Ma’aru in his retreat up into the mountains. While Nasare was an impressive fortress by the standards of Ciscaucasia, it was woefully pathetic compared the Lithuanian and Russian fortresses that Nogai Ahmed was used to battering down. As such, a bombardment of only two days served to level the entire eastern half of the city, and the irregular foot soldiers that rushed through the ruins en masse were able to quickly reduce the rest of the city. He but the Nasareans to the sword, believing that they had forfeited any right they had to ‘life’ or ‘surrender’ in rebelling against him.

    Moreover, this calculated massacre had the exact effects that Nogai Ahmed hoped it would. Previously, Ma’aru had been able to convince many of the tribal leaders to accompany him on his planned retreat into the mountains, where he (rightfully) believed his chances would much better, as the Mongols weren’t exactly famed mountaineers. Now, however, with many of their clan members butchered by the invaders, many of the elders and war-chiefs felt that they were honor-bound to fight the Mongols on the field of battle. Ma’aru desperately tried to convince them of the foolishness of this, but many of them were determined and sure that God would secure them victory. The resulting Battle of Zaur--actually fought a few miles north of the capital--was about as one-sided as you’d expect, the khan’s men riding down the poorly-armed Vainakhs en masse and losing only a handful of men to their brave but suicidal charges. At the end of the day, 3,000 Vainakhs and 200 Mongols were dead, and the war making ability of the Vainakhs had been irrevocably crippled. The small force that still remained loyal to Ma’aru shattered, as many clans chose to gather up all of their surviving members and flee to Circassia or Avaria rather than try and continue what would surely be a suicidal war. With no other option available to him, Ma’aru fled up into the high mountains with his small band, establishing a new capital settlement in one of the most isolated valleys of Ciscaucasia, known as Bashtorostan (OTL Nizhnyaya Unal). While he refused to surrender to his hated enemy, Ma’aru was effectively knocked out of the war, unable to project power beyond the four valleys closest to Bashtorostan.

    With the first target of his wrath all but eliminated, Nogai Ahmed then looked southwards. The Vainakhs were the most direct affront to his control of the region, but they were only as insolent as they had been because of the promise of foreign support. Circassia and Avaria had both been returned to the fold, but as soon as there was no massive army threatening to make it as if they had never, ever lived they would almost certainly resort to their old ways. In order to secure his hold on the region of Ciscaucasia, he needed to reduce what was, in his mind anyway, a state sponsor of rebels: Kartvelia. Not only was this region rich and mostly untouched by Mongol armies[6], in ravaging the region and utterly annihilating the Kartvelians and their state he would prove himself equal to, if not better than, Ahmed Sultan, who had failed to fight through the Caucasian Gates nearly thirty years previous. Indeed, Nogai Ahmed thought, if he could break through then all of Transcaucasia would be his, cementing him as one of the greatest khans to have ever lived, allowing him to take tens of thousands of slaves and levy thousands more pounds of gold and other valuables from the new territories. As he retired to winter camp that year--he wasn’t stupid, trying to force a crossing that late in the year would be suicide--visions of plunder and murder danced in the great khan’s head. In allowing the Pankisi Vainakhs to join their fellows, the Kartvelian king had unknowingly sown the seeds for his own destruction in giving the Horde the pretext it needed to invade.

    Meanwhile, on the southern side of the mountains, Vakhtang was blissfully unaware of the Sword of Damocles that hovered above him. The Horde had made frequent raids against the states of Ciscaucasia, so this was nothing new. Supposedly, he was more concerned with the ascension of David to the Trapezuntine throne and the diplomatic and economic ramifications of this than he was of the massive Mongol horde that was massing on his northern border. As such, the provincial dukes remained in their territories that winter and spring, rather than being marshalled for war. Aleks’andretsikhe and the other six fortresses of the Caucasian Gates were reinforced, sure, but Vakhtang was woefully overconfident in their capabilities. He believed that the Mongols, a steppe horde as they were, would be behind the times in terms of siege technology and so would be unable to break through the aging fortresses, many of which had been built more than a quarter of a century before and had not been built-up or expanded since. Nogai Ahmed was in fact an experienced siege commander with a personal love for the development and usage of cannons, which would have been a warning sign if Vakhtang hadn’t been dying of syphilis.

    That spring, April of 1525, the khan sent 20,000 men into Circassia to threaten the Circassian Gates as well as remind the Circassian tribes of their subservience to him once again. This force, reinforced with several hundred Circassian mercenaries, bore down on the Duchy of Abkhazia, the westernmost territory of Kartvelia. Had they managed to break through, they would have been able to utterly ravage the Kartvelian heartland in advance of the main invasion force. The Kingdom of Saint George was only spared this destruction because Mamia Dadiani, the march-ward of the Abkhazes and Duke of Tsukhumi, happened to be the only competent feudal ruler in Kartvelia and had taken the arrival of Nogai Ahmed the year before as a sign to start mobilizing. He had some 4,000 men ready and waiting in addition to several thousand more militiamen ready to be called up at a moment’s notice, and so was able to quickly scramble together nearly 11,000 Kartvelians and Abkhazians and several hundred Circassian and Vainakh exiles to meet the invasion force at the fords of the Myzmta near Anakopion (OTL Adler) along the coastal plain. While the Mongols outnumbered Dadiani by more than two-to-one, they were unwilling to risk a forced crossing of the river against a force of heavy infantry that were helped by defensive works, and so elected to withdraw back to Circassia to await reinforcements.

    This probing action had its desired effects, in spite of its tactical defeat. Vakhtang was finally roused from his idle and mustered out all the men and lords of Kartvelia, mustering a host of some 30,000 and marching with all speed towards the Circassian Gates. He feared that the Mongols would attempt to push through the western crossings, which were, logistically speaking, far less daunting than the Caucasian Gates. As such, he knew he needed to act swiftly to cut off any potential attack from that region, which together with the impressive fortifications of the Gates would allow him to hold off Mongol attacks until he was able to negotiate a peace. Vakhtang and his army advanced to the Myzmta by the end of June, and so brought a combined host of 40,000 against the Mongols.

    Nogai Ahmed then set the next stage of his plan in motion, sending two tumens (40,000 men) and the Circassian vassals to attack the king in the west, with orders to pin them down while taking as few casualties as possible. The fighting along this front began as soon as mid-July, as the Horde and their allies launched probing attacks all along the frontier, fighting a half-dozen small actions before falling back to the west, gradually wearing down the defenders’ numbers and morale. However, this was not the chief area of the war. With Vakhtang pinned down and the Kartvelians thoroughly distracted, Nogai Ahmed was free to move against his true target: the Caucasian Gates.

    The Alans, who inhabited the region around the pass, had had the fear of God put into them with the utter crushing of the Vainakhs and so were willing to, if not join the Horde’s forces then at the very least not fight against them. Because of this, the pickets that were supposed to inform the defenders of Baltatsike, the northernmost fortress, of any approaching host abandon their positions and allow the outer bulwark to be taken by surprise. Nogai Ahmed has light cannons sent ahead of the main force with the scouts and hauled up the side of the valley under the cover of night. Once the attack begins, the Circassian and other vassal troops that are being used as human shields surge forward to assail the fortress, whose defenders are caught completely off-guard. Shot rains down from both the pass to the north of them and from the heights to their east, and the defenders soon rout and flee down the valley, leaving the ruins of the fortress to the Horde. Similar tactics are employed at Larshtsike and Daritsike, the next two fortresses, to much success. Then Nogai Ahmed and his army reached Aleks’andretsikhe, the greatest fortress of all the Caucasus. Alek’sandre II had chosen the location of his citadel well, and it was nearly unassailable. It sat on a sheer-faced plateau jutting out into the center of the pass, surrounded by a bend of the Terek that made direct assault almost impossible. The only heights around the city that could be used for bombardment were also fortified, essentially making it impregnable. For a week the Mongols laid siege to the fortress, pounding away with cannons that could barely be elevated enough to even hit the cliffs below the walls and making suicidal assaults across the river and the cliff face. Nogai Ahmed was forced to admit that his whole plan might be foiled by Alexander’s Bastion, and had begun mulling over a strategic withdrawal before the solution appeared to him. An Alan shepherd had been captured by a foraging party, and in exchange for the safety of his family he would tell them of a secret pass around the fatal gorge. Nogai Ahmed was intrigued, and allowed the man to give his peace. It took sixteen days of trekking through the wildest parts of the mountains, at elevations where snow clung to the ground even in summer and where horses would regularly asphyxiate simply from walking, but at long last the advance force descended into the valley of the Jutistskali River. Over the following weeks, thousands of men would make the arduous journey across the Juta Pass, but eventually a full tumen would camp in the valley. In late August, they sallied out into the Terek Valley proper.
    Aleks’andretsikhe’s south-facing defenses were still quite impressive, but were much easier to bombard. After several days of round-the-clock bombardment, the guns of the great fortress finally fell silent.

    Deciding not to look a gift horse in the mouth, the khan and his army slipped around the fortress and continued down the pass. Gudauritsikhe, the next fortress, had been abandoned by the time they reached it, its garrison retreating down the valley to the more defensible Zakatsikhe, which like the great fortress sat atop a plateau overlooking the entirety of the valley. Here, the Mongols were also forced to lay siege to the fortress, whose guns were able to rain hell down upon them from a great distance. After a few days of non-stop attack, the khan devised a plan. He had ranks of captured prisoners shackled together and marched back and forth along the valley for several days in the row. At such distance, the defenders were unable to discern their countrymen from enemy soldiers and so opened fire, burning through much of their powder reserves as they did so. On the fourth day of this, Nogai Ahmed ordered an assault on the western face of the castle, which was the least steep and thus least defensible. The third wave made it over the walls, and the fortress was taken with much bloodshed on both sides. Nonetheless, with Zakatsikhe taken, there was only one fortress left between the khan and the lowlands: Ananuri, a decrepit castle built during the reign of Tamar, and which would surely be no match for the full weight of the Horde’s army.

    On 12 September, Nogai Ahmed and his army arrived at Ananuri and laid siege to it, pummeling the cliffside hardpoint with dozens of cannons of all sizes. The defenders stood strong under the withering fire, but as the second day dawned they appeared to be on the verge of collapse. The towers of the fortress had been reduced to rubble, and the walls sported many gaps; only the unexpectedly fast current of the Arkala River prevented the Mongols from simply swarming it. They had the numbers, after all, some three tumens of 60,000 men were still in the host. Nogai Ahmed was on the verge of ordering the final assault when word reached him from his pickets down the valley:

    An army flying the Five-Cross Flag approached from the south-east, numbering nearly as many as the Mongols themselves. The battle to decide the fate of all the Caucasus was to be fought at Ananuri, on the morrow….

    [1] This is a reference to Matthew 17:20
    [2] Zphosas was the Avar missionary who had converted many of the Vainakhs and Ma’aru himself, and so was considered to be responsible for the rebellion in Ciscaucasia by the Horde
    [3] This is a minor pass across the Eastern Caucasus that is too high and too narrow to be used by an army, but is still large enough for particularly daring merchants to travail. It had previously been unusable because of the many feuding tribes of the area, but with Rusalan’s unification of the region it was now open to trade, which further bound Avaria into the Kartvelian sphere.
    [4] Literally translates as “Battle of the river which was red”, more precisely “Battle of the Bloody River”
    [5] After Ahmed Sultan’s many victories, ‘Ahmed’ had been adopted as a common regnal suffix for the khans of the Golden Horde. It translates as ‘Most praiseworthy’, and so it was added directly into the ruler’s title as well.
    [6] Kartvelia had been devastated by the armies of Temur-e-Lank, but many of the Mongols of the steppe did not consider him to be one of them, instead regarding him as a Tajik or Persian.
    Appendix B: March 1526, Konya
  • Eparkhos

    Appendix B

    Konya, January 1526

    “...the valley around Malatya has been raided again, several of their storehouses were burned and a few dozen farmers and their families carried off. Most of the farmers were able to get inside the walls in time, thank God, and the city’s granaries should be able to provide for them until the next harvest.”

    Kilij Arslan sighed and drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair, staring off into space. Iskandarr had seen Suleiman--he had known him before he took the throne and his regnal name--like this before, and knew the calm that usually came before he lost his temper. The grand vizier shifted his weight and took a step back, shuffling the stack of papers he held and hoping not to piss him off any more.

    Suleiman broke from his trance and looked at him. “The same damned Turkmen again?”

    “Yes.” Iskandar said, expecting the sultan to shoot from his chair and flip the table. A pair of guards had to keep him from wringing the neck of the Qutlughid emissary who had told them they wouldn’t turn over the troublemakers last time. He could only imagine how pissed he’d be now.

    Instead, Suleiman rose from his desk and walked over to the window, gazing out at the night sky. “Father’s worst mistake was not killing them all when we had the chance.”

    Iskandar muttered his agreement as he trailed his lord over to the windowsill, rubbing a scar on his forearm from his brief career as a mamluk thirty years previous. The two men stood in comfortable silence, looking out at the pinpricks of light that covered the dark sky. It was a new moon, and there was almost no light other than that of the braziers that sat in the corners. He knew that the sultan was mulling over war with their eastern neighbor, and he knew that it was a bad idea.

    “It’s not worth it, Selim,” he said, “They have us four-to-one on the best of days.”

    Suleiman slammed his fist into the lintel. “Damn it, Isi, they can’t keep getting away with it! Every time those shit-eating dogs cross the border they’re not just attacking my people, they’re attacking me and Rûm itself!” he stopped, nostrils flaring as he glared out into the darkness. “They’re probing us, trying to test our strength. If we don’t respond, they’ll invade.”

    Iskandar waited for him to stop, choosing his words carefully. “They could also be trying to provoke you into a rash invasion, so they can paint themselves as victims.”

    Suleiman sighed. “You’re probably right.” something caught his attention and he glanced back out at the darkness, squinting. “What in God’s name is tha--”

    A gold-tipped crossbow quarrel sprouted from the left side of his chest, and with a short, sharp cry he fell backwards. Iskandar instinctively dropped to the floor and scrambled over to his friend. He grabbed Suleiman’s arm and felt for a pulse, feeling only limp muscle. For several seconds he stared at his friend’s body and the rapidly-spreading puddle of dark blood that was pouring out of him in stunned silence.

    “Guards!” he choked, barely able to get the words out of his suddenly parched throat, “GUARDS!”


    The next day

    Iskandar had accompanied his friend’s body to the burial grounds, only tearing himself away to tend to bodily functions. He sat in a stupor the whole time, the enshrouding and the prayers and even the procession to the grave seeming as hazy as a dream. Suleiman had been a decade younger than he was, only forty-one to his fifty-three, and he had always suspected that he would die first. He had lived a rough life before he’d been taken into the palace, and given the scars that covered his arms and his age, it seemed logical that he would pass first. That was part of the reason why he was so morose, but even as his friend was lowered into the ground, he knew that the worst was still to come.

    He sat cross-legged on the divan, gazing at the dozen or so men who sat in a semi-circle around him, stomach churning like it was trying to make butter. Suleiman had spent many nights in the harem complex, and had many adult sons, seventeen to be exact. Iskandar watched them with thinly-veiled disgust. They spoke idly amongst each other, laughing and carrying on like the basest of fools. Several of them, he couldn’t remember their names and frankly didn’t care, were glaring daggers at each other and muttering under their breaths, two of them even tensed like they were about to throw fists. He glared at them, balling his fists, furious that they didn’t even have the common decency to pretend to be saddened by their father’s gruesome death less than a day before.

    The only decent sons sat at opposite ends of the divan arc. Ibrahim had always been the most pious and kind-hearted of Suleiman’s sons, spending more time with imams giving alms than he did anything else. His eyes were streaked red, a sure sign that he at least mourned for his father. He glanced over at the other son, Kadir, who sat ramrod straight on his cushion, with hands folded across his lap and a stony expression. Iskandar had never liked Kadir, there was something about him that was just….off. He was several years older than the youngest of Suleiman’s adult sons, but despite this wore no beard or other facial hair, which had made him the source of much mockery, and his face was strangely rounded.

    The arrival of two slaves carrying a tray full of cups of almond wine broke him from his thoughts. He gestured them forward, and they haltingly carried the tray into the center of the circle, gently setting it down and then scurrying from the room and closing the doors behind them. If the guards were more competent than they had been in allowing the assassin to escape, the doors would be quietly barred from the outside.

    By now, all of the brothers were staring at him expectantly. He closed his eyes and muttered a quick and silent prayer for forgiveness, then spoke.

    “Your father and your grandfather both were great students of history. They knew, as any of you morons would know if you’d ever picked up a book--” he was past the point of no return now, there was nothing to be lost by saying what he’d wanted to scream to the heavens for so long.

    One of the more arrogant princes, Mehmet, rose, his face turning dark red. “How dare you say that to us! We’re the sons of an ancient and proud noble family, and your mother was a whore and your father some whoremonger.”

    Iskandar paused and fixed the insolent bastard with an icy glare. “My mother was a handmaiden for a princess of the Homşite Ayyubids, and my father was a dye merchant. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. As anyone with a basic knowledge of history could tell you, the House of Karaman has been at its weakest when it is divided between squabbling claimants and princes.”

    The princes broke out into murmurs, the implication clear.

    “How shall it be?” Mehmet shouted. “A contest of arms?”

    The princes broke out into a furor, proposing and then arguing over which was the best way for the true heir of Kilij Arslan V to be found. He ignored most of them.

    “The question should be put to the army and to the bureaucrats.” Kadir said, in a strange, warbling tone. Iskandar blinked, having never heard him speak before. The prince turned and stared at him with dark, unnerving eyes, and he looked away, waiting for the clamor to die down.

    “Your father kept that a secret, even for me.” he said. The princes broke out once again, but this time he interjected. “For God’s sake, shut up! I’m talking.” They collapsed into a surly silence. “Like I said before I was so rudely interrupted, the late sultan kept the nature of his selection secret, only writing it down on seventeen small tiles.” he gestured to the tray. “I suggest you start drinking.”

    At once fifteen of the princes rushed to the tray, snatching off goblets and lurching away to start drinking. He noted with great annoyance that much of it spilled onto the carpet, a gift from the Uzbek khan some time before, and his anger at this carelessness helped dilute what little remorse he still held. The men downed the goblets with great gusto, gulping down as much as possible in one go to get to the secret instructions. Wine spilled everywhere, staining many of their faces and clothes red. After several hectic moments, one of them finally found a tile and shouted so. His half-brothers scrambled over to him, pushing and shoving to try and see what it said.

    “Uh,” the lucky man said, “It says that, uh, gambling….” his face scrunched up “Gambling, stones and arrows are all works defiling Satan.”

    “It’s a passage from the Quran, you morons.” Iskandar, Ibrahim and Kadir all said at once. The grand vizier cast a suspicious look at both of them and carried on speaking. “‘O you who have believed, indeed, intoxicants, gambling, stone altars and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan.”

    They looked at him with a mixture of confusion and trepidation. One of the rear men started to swoon slightly, but most were still standing upright.

    “By the Prophet’s beard, are you dogs really this stupid? It’s telling you that drinking wine is a sin. You’re all going to hell by the way, the wine’s poisoned.”

    The room exploded into chaos. Several of the princes collapsed almost instantly and began thrashing, while several of the dumber ones tried to run for the locked door, or just stood there with a blank expression before trying to stagger away. Mehmed, the most violent one, had been one of the first to fall, and so Iskandar didn’t even need to draw his sword to fend off the two princes who rushed at him, nimbly side-stepping them and letting the impared attackers plow into the palace wall. Within a minute fourteen of the fifteen drinkers were dead or dying, thrashing or convulsing on the floor as their spirits tried to cling to their body. One of the brighter ones had managed to shove his hand down his throat and vomit out the poison and lay gasping beside a puddle of his own juices. Iskandar walked over and kicked him in the head until he stopped moving. He waited for the dead to stop convulsing, then sat back down on his divan.

    Ibrahim was staring at him bug-eyed, trying to string together a sentence in his shocked state. Kadir merely looked at him with the same stony expression, in a way that Iskandar had to admit he found unnerving.

    “Your father,” he began, “Believed strongly in two things. Firstly, that the worst thing that could happen after his death would be a succession crisis or civil war that would turn Rûm against itself. Secondly, that the writings of the Prophet were sacrosanct and must be respected.”

    He paused. “I don’t think I need to say more than that. Neither of us thought that two of you would resist the temptation, so you can settle it amongst yourselves. I don’t care how.”

    Ibrahim finally said something. “I….I void my claim to the throne. I want no part of this.” he gestured towards the corpses around them.

    “Well then,” Iskandar said, turning and looking at Kadir. “That leaves you as the sultan now.”

    Kadir nodded curtly, his expression unchanged.


    Two days later

    “I know who the man who killed the old sultan is.” Kadir said, his voice as throaty and placed as ever.

    Iskandar blinked, both from surprise and exhaustion. He had been roused from his bed by a summons to meet with the new sultan. In all honesty, he should have expected it. In the day and a half since Kadir’s coronation, the young sultan had spoken to him at irregular hours on many different subjects, ranging from the state of the state’s coffers to their diplomatic relations with their neighbors to the extent of their spy network along the eastern border. He’d never said anything about finding the assassin, though, and so he was more than a little surprised to hear that he had somehow found his father’s killer.

    “How?” he asked, genuinely curious.

    Kadir slid a wide-headed quarrel onto his table, its head covered with dried blood. Some of the blood had been scraped away to reveal a small patch of gold-leaf at the tip of it. Iskandar grunted in surprise. Anyone who could afford to put gold on a quarrel was a rich man indeed. Kadir never broke eye contact with him, and Iskandar glanced away a few seconds later.
    “There is one man who kills with a gold-headed quarrel.” Kadir said. “Alexios Francesco Skaramagos.”

    “A Greek.” Iskandar said. “I should’ve expected as much.”

    “A Pontic Greek killed him.” Kadir said, his voice unwavering. “A Trapezuntine killed him.”

    Iskandar nodded again, reading in between the lines. The Trapezuntines and their boy ruler had been marshalling for war in the months before the Golden Horde’s invasion of Kartvelia. He suspected that their aim had not been to defend their ally but to attack them, a suspicion which Suleiman had shared. Killing him would be in line with the Greeks’ typical cowardice, trying to eliminate a skilled general like the sultan would be exactly what they would do before an invasion.

    But why the hell would they do it while they were bogged down in the east. For a brief second, he wondered if Kadir had his own father killed, before Kadir distracted him.

    “Vizier, I ask that you prepare for war. The Trapezuntines have grievously insulted us and must be dealt with swiftly.”

    Iskandar nodded. “War it will be.”
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