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Appendix C: March 1526, Aleppo
  • Eparkhos

    Aleppo, Çandarid Beylik, March 1526

    Francesco Skaramagos sighed, sliding into the shadows with lips pursed. It was the closest he ever came to smiling, and it was an expression of relief more than one of joy. He’d had many close calls in his thirty-year--God, had it really been thirty years? He was getting too old for this--career, but his escape from Konya had been his closest yet. He’d ridden cross-country on a barely tamed Arab mount for three days and two nights, darting from bolt hole to bolt hole to escape the swarm of mamluks that’d come after him. At long last, he’d made it across the Çandarid border and was pretty much home free.

    The muscles in his legs and torso still ached, no thanks to the hard wooden benches of the han* that he sat in, and he shifted his weight with a slight groan. This was one of many merchant houses that he had contacts with across the region, but this particular contact had practically fallen off the face of the earth. He wondered, as he had so often as of late, if he should try and find a mosque or a church to pass the time. God only knew that he needed to make right with him.

    He was about to stand up when two men slid through one of the han’s side doors, dressed in drab, loose-fitting robes. He instinctively leaned further into the corner of the bench, hand sliding to the short sword that hung at his belt, beneath similar clothing. They could just be merchants, hell they probably were, but it never hurt to be too sure. An uneasy feeling came over him as he watched them glide across the room, glancing at every other bench in the almost empty place. Secrecy was nothing new for him, but something about this seemed off. No, something about one of the men, the taller one was off. He prided himself on never forgetting a face, and this talent sometimes extended to posture. He’d seen this man before, he was sure of it.

    After looking over all the other benches--they were alone except for an opium-smoker who was slumped over on the other side of the room and a couple who probably weren’t married and definitely not married to each other--the two men turned and made straight for him. He slid the blade from its scabbard, knuckles clenched around its handle, as ready for a fight as he could be. The men stopped a few feet in front of him.

    “You’re him?” the shorter man said in heavily-accented Arabic. He definitely wasn’t a native speaker, probably using the language to conceal his true origin.

    “Who?” Skaramagos asked, feigning confusion. His eyes flicked between them, watching for any sign of aggression. The tall man’s face danced through his mind as he tried to put a name and a place to it. Constantinople, ‘04 or ‘05?

    “The Greek.” the shorter man said.

    Skaramagos stretched, using the opportunity to move his other hand to the handle of a dagger sewn in the side of trousers. There was something off about all of this. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was something in the way the men glanced between each other that rubbed him the wrong way.

    “I have been accused of being a Greek,” he said, “But I prefer to think of myself as Franj.”**

    The taller man turned and whispered in his companion’s ear, his voice faint but low and throaty. It clicked in Skaramagos’ mind. He’d met this man, using the name Ioannes, before, around a decade before in a run-down han on the outskirts of Bursa. Ioannes had asked him to kill the child-emperor of Trapezous, promising him several dozen tons of gold for doing the job. He’d refused. Francesco Skaramagos may have been a paid murderer, but there was something wrong with killing members of the same family, and he didn’t kill kids on principle. He’d heard about him taking power in his own right a few years before, and wondered if Ioannes had come to ask him again. The answer would be the same.

    “I’m not going back to Trapezous.” he said.

    The small man grunted with surprise, and it was a few seconds before he spoke again. He didn’t talk to Ioannes, as Skaramagos had expected he would, but it wasn’t the most surprising thing he’d seen that day.

    “That complicates things.” he said at last. “But we still may have use for you, Sir Franj.”

    Skaramagos was mildly surprised. Most of his clients didn’t give their proxies lists, it complicated things if they had to be burned. And they did use proxies, if they showed up in person they’d probably wind up as a target sooner or later.

    Ioannes set three small tiles on the edge of the bench, looking Skaramagos straight in the eyes. He stared back at him, feeling that this might be a trap to get his hand off his knife. After a few seconds, he pushed them down the bench. Skaramagos’ eyes were well-adjusted to the darkness by now, and he read the Latin text inscribed upon them with ease.

    It was an illustrious list. He recognized the names of two of the marks, both of whom would be swarming with guards who could ring his neck with one hand. At the very least, they’d have palaces big enough to sneak into and disappear from, which always made for better jobs. Still, they’d be hard enough to get under normal circumstances, let alone after the Sultan of Rûm took a quarrel to the heart.

    He tapped the third tile. “Which horde is this?”

    “I don’t know, which one has his name on it?” Ioannes sneered. Skaramagos had half a mind to gut him then and there, but he hated getting blood on his clothes more than he hated being disrespected. The shorter man gave his colleague a withering glare.

    “My apologies, Mr. Franj, my colleague is rather crude. His maj--” he coughed “Our employer wishes for the leader of this Great. Horde. To be done away with as soon as possible, preferably before he can return to the steppe. That is all I am permitted to say.”

    Skaramagos grunted. “How much?”

    The shorter man told him, and the assassin whistled with surprise. There were small countries with less in their coffers after the harvest, many middling-sized ones as well. With that kind of money, he could set himself up as a petty despot practically anywhere. It was almost certainly too good to be true, though.

    “There’s a catch.” he said.

    “It needs to be done publicly.” the short man said.

    That’s not too bad, Skaramagos thought. He’d done that before, it wasn’t too difficult, especially if you could get a nice vantage point. Shoot, watch the mark drop, then sneak off into the milling and panicky crowd. He’d have to ditch the crossbow, though, which was always unfortunate, but it’d be worth it.

    “At Friday prayers.”

    That complicated things. For several long minutes, he mulled over the offer in his mind. It’d be difficult, damned difficult, but he was fairly sure it could be done and the money would be more than he could even imagine. One last coup-de-grace before he bowed out. It’d be a hell of a way to finish off his career, he thought as his calf started to burn from spending so long in his awkward position.

    “I’ll do it.” he said at last. Visible relief passed over both of the men’s faces. Ioannes fished a small, clinking pouch out of his pocket and tossed it on the bench, then scooped up the other two tiles, turned and walked out. A few minutes later, the shorter man followed him, leaving Skaramagos to ponder what he had gotten himself into.

    The better part of an hour later, the assassin strolled out of one of the arched doorways, a small plate bearing the name ‘NOGAI AHMED KHAN’ bouncing in his pocket.

    * han is the Ottoman Turkish term for an urban inn or trading center.
    ** medieval Arabic term for Latin Christians and Western Europeans at large.
    Part LI: Union (Valley of Ananuri) (1525)
  • Eparkhos

    Part LI: Union (Valley of Ananuri) (1525)

    The Trapezuntine Empire and the Kingdom of Georgia had been joined at the hip since birth, driven together by the common threat of the seas of hostile infidels that surrounded them on all sides. The Kartvelians had given aid and succor to the Trapezuntines on many occasions, and the Trapezuntines had done their best to repay these in the name of solidarity against the dreadful hordes that bounded them and bound them. Now, with the enemy closer than ever and the gravest threat since the age of Temur-e-Lank on the horizon, the Trapezuntines would take up arms to help their sister state. As on the fields of Saint Eugenios before, so on the slopes of Ananuri now…

    David had been watching the events unfolding in Ciscaucasia throughout 1524 and into 1525 with mild interest. Given his religious disposition, he was most displeased to see so many martyrs and apostates made out of the good people of the northern mountains, but no so displeased to do anything other than politely register a request with Sarai that they tone down the persecutions, a request which was, of course, denied. The interests of the Trapezuntine state lay in the consolidation of the Black Sea as a mare nostrum, something that would be impossible without a willingness to coexist on the half of the ruler of the Pontic Steppe; he would not throw away the long-term diplomatic goals of practically every Trapezuntine ruler for the sake of some distant coreligionists, no matter how severe their plight. As such, David was content to watch the ongoing crackdown with distaste, but not actually intervene to prevent it. His focus lay southwards, where he was hoping to gin up a rebellion within Neo-Rûmite territory that could act as an inroad for him into the region.

    This torpor was broken when word of the Mongol advance towards Kartvelia reached him in the summer of 1525. As far as he was concerned, Nogai Ahmed could do whatever the hell he wanted on the northern side of the mountains--it was his territory after all--but any attack on the southern side of the mountains was an indirect threat to him and Trapezous at large. After all, once the Mongols had established themselves in Transcaucasia--devastating one of Trapezous’ greatest strategic allies in doing so, which would be enough of a provocation in an of itself--what would stop them from just steamrolling westwards into Pontos itself. There was, of course, the long-standing alliance between Trapezous and Tbilisi which had buoyed both of their states throughout its existence and allowed the isolated Orthodox states to cooperate for mutual defense. As David would later summarise in the first book of his Davidine Wars: “Trapezous and Kartvelia were interdependent; the loss of the latter state would mean the death of the former. Ahmed forced my hand, I had to fight.”

    The bandons had already been martialing for war in the months leading up to the Mongol invasion, and so David was rather easily able to rouse them to arms, albeit against the heathen invaders from the north rather than the south. The armies of Trapezous had not seen decisive combat--well, apart from some of the western bandons which had been mustered out to aid the Nikaians in their revolt--in several years, but David hoped that the constant training and drilling would make up for the institutional attrition accrued during that period. While the threat posed by the Golden Horde was immense, some might even say existential, the aftokrator and his megas domestikos (at this time a provincial general named Alexios Kaballarios who had been promoted to reduce the power the Ratetoi and their allies held in the government) still had to pay mind to the threats posed by the Neo-Rumites and Ottomans in the west, as well as the financial burdens of large-scale mobilization. The total population of the Trapezuntine and Nikaian Empires was slightly above 600,000[1], and because of the efficiency of the bandon system in training and mobilizing men, in times of deep crisis a hypothetical 105,000 men could be put in the field. Attempting to do this for anything other than an apocalyptic invasion would be ludicrous, of course, so David ‘only’ called up 25,000 men, leaving the rest to be called out if things spiralled out even further.

    Taking advantage of the coastal nature of his realm, David raised bandons across the eastern rim of the Black Sea and shuttled them along the coast to Vatoume, which had been designated since the reign of Alexandros II as the chief staging point for military actions in Kartvelia. The ships had assembled there by 6 August, aided by calm seas and strong eastward winds across the Basin, and the aftokrator and his host were ready to march out of the city and across the frontier on 11 August. They were marching for Ananuri from the start, as the rushed and hectic messengers that Vakhtang sent to the Pontic host asked that he advance there and set up camp to await the arrival of the main Kartvelian army. Neither of the rulers thought that the fall of Aleks’andretsikhe was even a possibility, and so they both concluded that Ananuri would serve as a good staging point for a defensive action in the Gates. Vakhtang and the bulk of his host had remained in the west along the frontier throughout the campaign season, as he had expected that the brunt of the offensive would come from that direction. This was a fairly grounded fear, but many later chroniclers would use it as an example of the king’s worsening mental state due to his disease. It was only with the arrival of news of the invasion of the Horde through the Caucasian Gates and the fall of the first two fortresses that he was persuaded to abandon this position and ask David for help, and because of this his force was quite tardy in repositioning. His host, now numbering some 30,000 after leaving behind a sizable force under Dadiani to hold the western defenses and keep the Mongols from getting any ideas, linked up with the Trapezuntine army on the march across the lowlands in late August.

    The combined host--some 50,000 soldiers strong at this point--arrived at Ananuri on 13 September. For several weeks as they marched on, Vakhtang and David had begun receiving reports from their scouts and outriders that Mongol cavalry had been spotted in the lower pass, but they had dismissed this as anxious scouts and inexperienced men mistaking Alan auxiliaries for the Mongol army, respectively. It was only on 8 September that a desperate courier from the garrison at Zakatsikhe, warning of their imminent collapse and begging for help, reached the army, and it was this that finally spurred the two rulers to take these reports seriously. The allies dramatically picked up the pace, knowing that the results of the Mongols reaching the open plains would be utterly catastrophic. They arrived on 13 September at the valley beneath the fortress, having been harassed for several days by Mongol pickets and outriders, to find that they had arrived in the nick of time. Nogai Ahmed would have to fight his way past them if he wanted to get into the lowlands, and they would not yield easily.

    That night, they set up a joint camp on the southern side of the fortress, almost directly opposite the Mongol position on the northern side of the embattled castle. Both sides knew that battle would be joined on the morrow, and the usual simmering air of anxiety that fills most camps on the night before combat was multiplied by the sheer scale of the looming action. A battle of this scale had not been fought since the apocalyptic Battle of Didgori in 1121, which had seen nearly 300,000 men take the field. While the total number of men assembled at present was much smaller, the sentiment--that Kartvelia was facing down utter ruin--remained the same. Indeed, Vakhtang even made what he hoped would be a rousing speech on the matter and likening their current situation to Didgori, but this only hurt morale as his disease-addled mind lost cohesion halfway through and he began rambling about architectural advancements under Davit IV. In the Mongol camp, Nogai Ahmed promised immense wealth--specifically, ten pounds of gold and a dozen slaves--to each one of his soldiers if they carried the day, and the usual seventy-two virgins in paradise if they were slain. The only speech in the Pontic camp was a solemn rendition of a copy of Nogai Ahmed’s letter to the Avars with the sole comment of “If.” at the end. Both allied armies as well as could be expected that night, although the Mongol supply situation was contracted by their long lines and the lack of pillage in the surrounding country. The khan made a great show of doling out the last of the food, warning his men that they would face starvation if driven back but could feast to their heart’s content on the soon-to-be collected harvest of Kartvelia if they broke through. Sermons by ulema and priests were concluded at midnight, at which point both camps fell into an uneasy silence.

    Before dawn the next morning, the Kartvelian army rose and took the field in as close to complete silence as was feasible. The valley was at its widest barely a kilometer across, and so Vakhtang was sure that he could plug any attempt at eastward breakout by moving the bulk of his force thence. 15,000 of the Kartvelian soldiers, mostly heavy footmen and dismounted knights, followed the king out into the lowlands and took up positions there, facing down the Mongol camp in the faint pre-dawn glow. Another 10,000 took up position on the ridges to the north and south of the valley, forcing any attackers to funnel themselves into a kill zone before even making contact with the main force. 5,000 Kartvelians and 5,000 Trapezuntines remained behind to guard the camp, while the other 15,000 Ponts guarded the Arkala and its passage into the valley itself. If everything went according to plan, David’s dawn push up the hill of Ananuri would rescue the besieged defenders and push on to hit the Mongols in their flank, splitting their force and driving half of them into the Kartvelian lines and sending the rest running up the valley

    Ahmed Nogai, meanwhile, was far more cagey about his plans. He was deeply concerned about his convoluted stratagem being leaked and so told only the highest-ranking of his generals and officers until it was too late for any defector to sneak away. He spent the pre-dawn hours of 14 September as busy as the allies, but did a far better job of concealing it than they did. The positions of the allied forces were as clear as day by the sheer noise that they made, in comparison to the steppe riders, who were well-versed in moving silently, out of self-preservation if nothing else. By the time dawn came, as many things were in place as was possible to guarantee, and he was ready to join battle.

    At dawn, the battle opened up with the barking serenade of cannonfire. The Kartvelian guns along the Samlyn (Southern) ridge roared to life first, firing at the reported position of the Mongol camp in hopes of fooling them into believing the main attack would come there, as opposed to at its true target, something which was shortly followed by the guns on the north ridge. The final battery to open up were the Trapezuntine cannons themselves, attempting to fire over the walls of Ananuri and strike the besieging camp, or at least give the signal for the defenders to rejoin their attacks. With cannonade raining overhead, David began the attack, leading twenty of the best bandons under his personal command up the ridge. As he had hoped, they were able to reach the fortress with minimal casualties, mostly due to friendly fire, and push on around the castle. The lightly-armored cavalry and dismounted horsemen did as had been hoped and crumbled, fleeing away to the north. It was here that things started to go horribly wrong.

    Rather than withdrawing his heavy siege guns, Nogai Ahmed had instead ordered them loaded with grapeshot, correctly guessing that the Trapezuntines would attack from the same direction as the fortress. As soon as their fellows were out of the way (for the most part, anyway) the Mongols opened fire at near point-blank range, blowing the front bandons to hell and turning the ranks behind them into swiss cheese. The Trapezuntines, as expected, almost immediately routed after seeing the men in front of them turned into mincemeat, and despite David’s desperate exhortations to rush forward and seize the guns, only a few bandons followed him forward. The artillerymen hadn’t been expecting any of their attackers to press on, and so David was able to take and spike several of the guns before being forced to pull back in the face of enemy reinforcements. As he retreated, many of the Kartvelian gunners on Samlyn Ridge mistook them for advancing Mongols and opened fire on their allies, thankfully to little effect. Once those guns were silenced, David was able to hold at Ananuri Castle proper and fight off several attempts to drive him off.

    While the Trapezuntine failed to push on into the Mongol flank as planned, Vakhtang was not informed of this, instead believing that David and his men had punched across the valley and were currently massacring the poorly-armed and worse-armored enemy horsemen. As such, when he observed several hundred horsemen thundering down the valley in loose formation, he assumed that these were panicked Mongols running for their lives. He ordered both batteries to turn their guns on this formation, and ordered his men into close ranks to repel any charges, unlikely though they may be. The cannons roared to life once again, their handlers struggling to turn their big guns to keep pace with the quick riders. As tends to happen in these scenarios, several of the cannoneers severely misjudged their headings in the early morning gloom and wound up firing upon their own men, carving broad gouges into their tight ranks. Then, as quickly as they had come, the Mongols fired a valley and withdrew back up the valley, out of gun range. The horsemen repeated this tactic twice, both times drawing heavy cannonfire but inflicting little damage on the formations of infantry. Vakhtang most likely concluded that this was a desperate attempt to draw his men forward, and so ordered them to remain in position come hell or high water. This would be a fatal mistake.

    After the third volley, the powder supplies of both batteries were running low. Resupply came in the form of carts rushed up the side of the ridges, hurriedly doling out shot and black powder to the cannoneers so they could continue their fire. Suddenly, at around terce or 9 AM, the air above the northern ridge was split with jackal-like screams and whoops, above it all the shouted cry of “Kika rika!”[2]. Hundreds of Circassian warriors came pouring down the side of the mountain, emerging from concealment behind bushes and trees and in innumerable hollows with swords and crossbows. Two nights before, after he had received word of the approaching army, Nogai Ahmed had sent a thousand of his fiercest Circassians up the ridge, and now his long-planned stratagem was bearing great fruit. The Circassians swarmed down the hill, driving all before them, and capturing the northern battery with the loss of only one cannon. Freshly provisioned, the guns were turned against their masters and began raining hell down upon the tightly-packed Kartvelians, in addition to a great bit of suppressing fire levied against the southern battery to keep them down.

    The Kartvelians were standing shoulder-to-shoulder and so were absolutely devastated by the sudden bombardment, shot falling densely among them like they were fish in a barrel.Vakhtang had ordered his men to stand their ground at all costs, and so the bravest or most loyal of the soldiers did just that and so were massacred, while most either fled, tried to charge piecemeal and were cut down or began milling about in panic. It was at this crucial moment that Vakhtang could have salvaged things if he had acted, sending men up the ridge to recover the guns and end the flanking assault. He did not, however, have the presence of mind to do so, instead lapsing into inane ramblings in the heat of battle, which even further demoralized his men.

    It was at this moment that Nogai Ahmed struck the fatal blow. In the weeks before, he had secretly conducted negotiations with the Lord of Arishni[3], a restive vassal of the Kartvelian king who resented how the king neglected his march-warden along much of the Qutlughid border. The Lord of Arishni felt that the Mongols would be able to win handily given his experiences with Qutlughid raiders, and so was remarkably defeatist and sought to find the best way out of this mess for himself personally and his retainers. In exchange for protection from pillaging and position as the khan’s chief man in Transcaucasia, Arishni agreed to refuse to take up arms against him. It was by sheer bad luck that Vakhtang appointed Arishni to occupy the very rear of the Kartvelian formation, at the easternmost edge of the part of the valley occupied by the soldiers. With his new liege’s guns turning the soldiers of his old liege into a fine paste, Arishni decided that now was an excellent time to abandon the latter ruler and began a swift withdrawal eastward, ordering his officers to proclaim that they had been outflanked by a massive force of Mongols. This caused the already panicky soldiers to collapse into anarchy, entire formations dissolving as they stampeded to try and escape the noose which they believed was closing around them.

    As the rear of the Kartvelian force began to collapse, Nogai Ahmed finally made an appearance with the bulk of his men. He had intentionally kept the two strongest tumens available to him to lull the allies into a false sense of security, and with their sudden appearance many of the footmen concluded that their enemy had been reinforced and that all was lost, joining the ever-growing number of fleeing men. In formation, the khan and his horde thundered down the valley and slammed into the Kartvelian front in a tidal wave of horses and men. In spite of their light arms and armor, few of the Kartvelians fought back and so the Mongols took surprisingly few casualties. Instead, most of them turned and ran and so were ridden down. David, seeing the horrible situation unfolding before him, tried to catch the Mongols in the flank but found to his dismay that only the eleutheroi, who numbered only 2,000, followed his order to advance; rather than losing them too, he ordered his men back and into defensive formations. The Mongols pursued the routing Kartvelians all the way down the valley, riding down thousands of them before they finally broke through into the Zhinvali Pass, whose defenders had been swamped by their own fleeing countrymen. They advanced down the valley and, by sunset, had reached the plains.

    The Battle of Ananuri was an absolute disaster for the Kartvelia-Trapezous alliance and both Christendom and Transcaucasia at large. Nogai Ahmed Khan and his horde had broken through onto the Kartvelian plains, and there was no-one left to stop them. Of the 70,000 Mongols and Circassians who had taken the field that day, only 10,000 had been killed or sufficiently crippled to not fight on, which left the equivalent of three full tumens with a free hand in the Kartvelian lowlands. The allies, in contrast, had lost somewhere around 25,000 men, or half of their entire force in a single day, most of them ridden down by the Mongols during the route or trampled by their comrades in their panicked flight. Vakhtang V was among them, according to varying accounts either a) being killed by a cannonball, b) being shot in the neck by an arrow, c) knocked off his horse and dragged beneath its hooves or d) falling off his horse and drowning in shit. The only saving grace, if it can be called that, was that David had managed to hold on to the camp and keep up his defenses until he could withdraw under the cover of nightfall, thus managing to keep 20,000 men--mostly Trapezuntines, but with a few thousand Kartvelians--and several dozen cannon under allied command.

    In the aftermath of the disaster, David bid a hasty retreat all the way back to Imereti, abandoning the capital and the eastern duchies to the Mongols in hopes of saving what he could of the rapidly collapsing Kartvelian western provinces, inadvertently kickstarting the division of the realm into rival states….

    [1] This is a rough estimate; don’t hold me to it.
    [2] ‘Kika rika’ or, more accurately, “Keeka rike”, was a famous Circassian war cry of the 19th century known for striking terror and utter panic into those on its receiving end. A visiting British traveller during the Circassian Wars described it thusly: “This war-whoop of the Circassian warriors is indeed terrific, somewhat resembling the howl of a pack of jackals; so startling and earthly, that it is said to have caused insanity in some persons who heard it for the first time. We can easily imagine the panic it might spread among an army composed of the ignorant and superstitious peasants of Russia, surprised in some lonely glen or defile of the Caucasus by a band of these infuriated mountaineers, all yelling their war-cry, as they are accustomed to do when they commence an attack.” (Turkey, Russia, the Black Sea and Circassia by Edmund Spencer, 1854). Spencer also describes witnessing a Circassian attack in the same text: “The reader may therefore picture to himself the resistless impetuosity of a headlong charge of these flying horsemen of the mountains, sweeping like an avalanche on some devoted body of their country’s foes beneath them,—at the same moment making the heights around reecho with their fearful war-cry, discharging their carbines with terrible effect on coming to close quarters, while the stout staves of the Cossack lances that oppose their course are severed like reeds, by the vigorous and skilfully-directed blows of their admirably tempered blades. They will cut their way through an entire battalion, throw a whole column into disorder, and then as suddenly disappear through the yawning portals of some mountain gorge, or beneath the everlasting shadows of their primeval forests—before the smoke of their last volley, or the dust raised in their wild fray, has cleared off—and before their panic-stricken foes, in spite of their most strenuous efforts, have been able to bring their artillery to bear on the fierce band of guerrillas, who, although coming upon them and disappearing with the rapidity of a clap of thunder, leave yet a memento of their prowess behind them in the scattered bodies of their enemies that everywhere cover the ground.”
    [3] The Kartvelians considered the betrayal of the Lord of Arishni to be such a foul betrayal that by the universal accord of both the church and the nobility his very name was damned from existence, all records of it being destroyed or overwritten with one of his many colorful cognomens, the most amusing being “He of the shriveled penis and gaping rectum’[4]. Only the account of a Qutlughid chief named Mehmed of Ganja provides a clue as to his name, as Mehmed boasts of having defeated ‘Giorgi, the march-warden of Arishni’, in single combat in 1519.
    [4] This is an OTL insult used by Ioannes Skylitzes (IIRC) against the eunuch regent Basileios Lekapenos/Basileios Nothos of the late 10th Century.
    Part LII: Red Autumn, Black Winter (1525-1526)
  • Eparkhos

    Part LII: Red Autumn, Black Winter (1525-1526)

    The months following the Battle of Ananuri would go down as some of the worst in Kartvelian history. The king was dead and the throne was left to families of squabbling nobles, all the while the Mongols swarmed across the eastern half of the kingdom with their characteristic brutality and cruelty. Tens of thousands of innocents were killed and tens of thousands more carried off into slavery, not withstanding the tens of thousands more who starved that bitter winter. Entire cities would be put to the sword, and great swathes of the country would be so desolated that they would remain uninhabited for years. This was certain from the moment of the Kartvelian rout; the only question was, how much could be saved?

    After carrying the day at Ananuri, Nogai Ahmed Khan turned his attention due south. Despite the presence of the Trapezuntine aftokrator and a sizable portion of his army to the south-west of the battlefield, the khan was more concerned with the Kartvelian capital than any enemy army. After all, if the Trapezuntines posed a threat to him and his goals whatsoever, then they would not have been so easily defeated now, would they? Of far more concern was the state of Tbilisi, which was the largest city in Transcaucasia and consequently one of the richest, and moreover the seat of the Kartvelian kingdom proper. If he were to truly crush these insolent Caucasians, he needed to deal not just a physical but a symbolic, spiritual, even victory. Tbilisi provided the opportunity to do just that; take the city, steal everything that wasn’t nailed down and brutally execute everyone tangentially related to the old king, and all of Kartvelia would bow before him. Hopefully, it would also be enough of a spectacle to reach Krakow and Novgorod, inspiring similar fear in them.

    On the third day following the battle--he had stopped to pillage everything of value from the 20,000 dead Kartvelians who wouldn’t be needing their arms or armor now--the khan rode due south through the Aragvi Valley. While he had definitely been the victor of the battle, he had still lost a substantial portion of his men and so reorganized his nominal five tumens into three, slightly overstrength tumens. Riding with his 60,000 Mongols were the 5,000 men of the Lord of Arishni, who were more than a little afraid of their nominal allies. Although the presence of the Kartvelian auxiliaries slowed the Horde considerably[1], Nogai Ahmed felt that it was worth it for the morale wound that defectors working with the Mongols would inflict upon any defenders they came upon. In two days, they had reached the Svetitskhoveli Gorge, where the Aragvi had carved a gap in the mountains north of Tbilisi. As expected, the Kartvelians had managed to scrape together a militia as a last line of defense and positioned them here, where the invaders’ numerical advantage would be lessened. However, despite their disadvantage, the Mongols went through the demoralized and poorly-trained militia like a sledgehammer through tissue paper, not even having to fake a retreat to lure them out before the Kartvelians routed and scattered in all directions. With this slight impediment to their advance reduced, the horde pressed onto the capital itself the next day.

    On 20 September, the great Mongol host appeared north of Tbilisi, their hooves sounding the great city’s death knell. The roads south and east were already choked with refugees trying to escape the orgy of violence that was soon to follow, and so with a simple flanking maneuver by one of the tumens Nogai Ahmed was able to cut the city’s defenders off from any hope of escape or relief. The khan issued a missive, giving the people of the city three hours to throw open their gates and surrender or be destroyed. As expected, no-one did, and so the siege began in earnest. Horse archers aren’t exactly the best at assaulting walls, so Nogai Ahmed kicked up his heels and waited for his siege train, which was much slower than the horde itself, to arrive. He had marched south with eighty cannons back in the spring of 1524, and by the time the artillery arrived at Tbilisi guns captured from fallen fortresses and the field of Ananuri[2] itself had swelled this number to nearly a hundred and fifty cannons of all sizes. Within a few days of their arrival, three batteries of fifty, fifty and forty-seven had been set up, firing on the western and eastern wall, respectively, and the city’s citadel. After a week of near-constant bombardment, massive gaps in the walls of Davit IV had been pounded out, and the khan was ready to order an assault. On 3 October--hereafter known as the Black Feast[3] waves of Circassian and Arishni-aligned Kartvelian footmen (he had been able to rally many deserters to him with promises of wealth and pillage) poured through the largest gaps of both walls. The guns of the citadel had been pounded into silence some time earlier, and so they met only haggard militiamen and mercenaries, girded with desperation. Despite their best efforts, the Tbilisians were outmatched, and the city fell.

    The sack of Tbilisi contains many details which are probably exaggerated. For instance, Nogai Ahmed probably didn’t order every monk and nun in the city to be burned on a pyre built of their own severed arms, just as he probably didn’t have every man or boy in the city taller than the spoke of a wagon decapitated and their bodies floated down the Mtkvari. However, it was doubtless an event of incredible violence, even by medieval standards. Most of the city was burned to the ground, and most of its inhabitants were killed or enslaved, leaving only a few hundred survivors in what had been a city of around 35,000 a few scant weeks before. The entire eastern shore of the town was reduced to piles of ash-covered rubble, and much of the western bank had received the same treatment. The only buildings spared were the palace and the Anchiskhati Basilica, which were stripped of much of their valuables anyway. The reason for this discretion soon became apparent, for on 15 October the Lord of Arishni was crowned as King of Kartvelia and as a vassal of the Golden Horde. Nogai Ahmed saw Kartvelia as good a place as any to experiment with tributaries, and so installed his nominal ally as a puppet to streamline the collecting of taxes and tribute from Kartvelia.

    The installation of a puppet ruler did not mean that rural Kartvelia would be spared. No, instead they would fare even worse than the Tbilisians; Nogai Ahmed wished to send a message, namely that if you forced him to invade to get his money, he would make it hurt for you and for everyone associated with him. That autumn, the Mongols ranged across all of eastern Kartvelia, pillaging and looting as they went. The harvest was ripening as Tbilisi was falling and so, the horsemen stole up much of the farmers’ crops for themselves and their horses as a form of payment for their insolence. They killed or enslaved pretty much everyone they came across, regularly putting any villages and monasteries in their path to the torch, carrying off anything of value that survived the fires. Whatever the Mongols could not steal or eat they burned, hoping to starve out those who had fled into the high mountains to escape their fury. Even worse, the following winter was incredibly harsh, large drifts of snow blanketing most of the kingdom and ice choking many of its rivers. By disease, by cold, by hunger or by the sword somewhere between a quarter and half a million Kartvelians died between September 1525 and April 1526.

    Refugees poured out in all directions, fleeing into the mountains and isolated valleys in the interior regions or taking their chances with a run for the border around the fringes. The bloodshed in Kartvelia was so severe that Arslan II himself led an army out from Tabriz to keep the Mongols from getting any ideas about carrying over into his lands, declaring himself the protector of the exiled Kartvelians and practically daring Nogai Ahmed to try and take a crack at him. Many others fled into Armenia, which held a degree of autonomy during this period and so was hoped could resist the invaders, while many others fled into Rûmite or Trapezuntine lands. However, the lion’s share went west, where the last bastion of free Kartvelia glimmered on the far side of the Likhi Mountains.

    After the disaster at Ananuri, the Kartvelian army had been almost completely annihilated and the Trapezuntine army severely damaged and demoralized by witnessing twenty thousand of their allies massacred before them. Had it not been for the presence of David, who was absolutely furious that his men had refused his order to advance and, in his mind, caused the battle be lost so had ordered several bandons’ worth of eleutheroi to the rear of the formation to kill anyone who tried to flee, it is likely that the Trapezuntines too would’ve been run down. Instead they held the line until sunset before withdrawing back to their fortified camp with the guns of the southern battery. There were some 20,000 surviving Trapezuntines out of the 25,000 who had taken the field, and they were joined by 10,000 Kartvelian survivors and stragglers to the battle. Without a doubt, this was the largest army left in all of Kartvelia, and the aftokrator knew that he couldn’t risk it in a pitched battle with the Mongols, not so soon after the last army had been annihilated. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, David decided that his best option was to withdraw as quickly and quietly as possible. And so, over the following days, the combined host would gradually slip out of their defensible position in the valley and move eastward through the foothills of the Greater Caucasus. They moved in a long, drawn-out column through forests and glades and up and down the not-inconsiderable hills that fanned out along the southern side of the mountains. They only risked moving down onto the plains after crossing the Arkiani River, making a mad dash across the lowlands that surrounded the Lakhvi River before scaling back up into the plateaus and peaks of the Likhi range, which divided Imereti and Guria from the rest of Kartvelia. At long last, the Trapezuntines and Kartvelians reached a modicum of safety at Kutaisi, now with a (minor) mountain range between them and the Mongols.

    It was at Kutaisi that David was first able to survey the situation post-Ananuri and realize just how deeply screwed things were. Everything east of the Likhis was either on fire or in the process of being lit on fire as the Mongols ranged over the are, looting, raping and slaving as they went with no regard to any humanity. At best, the Mongols and the Qutlughids would fight each other, but there was no guarantee that that would allow them to undertake a reconquest. Even worse, Vakhtang himself had been killed in the battle and his successor, his son Alek’sandre, had died with him. With no-one on the throne, the typically feuding feudal nobility were already arguing over who should become king of the ashes, with no regards to the crisis at hand. At least David’s army was still somewhat intact, which effectively made him the kingmaker of the situation in the absence of some great noble coalition. Of course, domestic politics took a back seat to the massive Mongol horde that lay only a few weeks away, and he launched into making the best of this bad situation.

    There were three passes across the Likhi Range large enough for a force of cavalrymen to cross through, and these were the logical points to make a defense of the western parts of Kartvelia. From north to south and in increasing order of importance and accessibility, they were the Ertso Pass, the Rikoti Pass and the Surami Pass. Ertso Pass was by far the most isolated, lying more than a hundred kilometers to the north of the other two and requiring several days’ trek through densely forested river valleys and up sharp inclines to even reach the pass itself. Once through, any attacking army would then have to slog through several dozen more miles of rough country to reach the Rioni Valley. Given the difficulties in utilizing it, David dispatched only two bandons to fortify it, as well as several dozen pounds of coins to secure the support of the Alan tribesmen who lived in the region and would be crucial for any attacker or defender. With that dealt with, he turned his attention to the two southern passes. Rikoti was the more defensible of the two, as the road to the pass made several switchbacks and could fairly easily be flooded out or trapped with caltrops and other such nasty surprises. He sent 5,000 men--a mixture of Trapezuntines and Kartvelians--to construct a series of forts to hold the pass against assault from either the east or the west. A series of earthen forts was to be constructed at the end of each switchback, and a large citadel was to be erected directly in front of the pass itself, forcing any travelers to pass around to its left or right to reach the pass proper. A dozen cannons were sent to be installed in these forts, a considerable amount for this time. Finally, there was Surami Pass, the largest, lowest and thus least defensible of the crossings. Thankfully, it also had the longest distance between its mouths, and so there was ample room to construct forts within it. David had two large bastions raised: One at Bezhatubani, where the pass turned to circle around a sizable outcropping and thus would expose any approaching host to fire and interdiction for the entirety of the turn, and one at Vakhanistskali, where the pass opened up enough to make the construction of a fortress within it possible and worthwhile. The bulk of David’s army went here, working frantically with the Mongol sword of damocles hanging over their head, and they managed to finish the construction by November, when the snows started to fall at their altitude. Given the rough seas and the shortage of cannonade after Ananuri, David had the cannons stripped from several Trapezuntine ships and hauled overland to supplement the defenses of Surami. These defenses were able to repel several Mongol probing attacks that winter, which David took to be a sign of their completion.

    With the immediate threat dealt with, David was able to turn his attention to the looming threat of civil war within the Kartvelian rump state. During the months he had been busy overseeing the construction of the eastern defenses, he had been bombarded by messages from the various noble families who held land and/or titles in Imereti or Guria or had managed to escape thence with some semblance of their pre-invasion wealth. The House of Bagrationi had been nearly driven to extinction by the mass fratricide of the civil wars of the 1480s and 1500s as well as a number of purges that Vakhtang had undertaken as his mind began to slip from him[4], and most of its surviving scions had been in Tbilisi shortly before its fall and were currently missing, presumed dead. With the void presented by the seeming extinction of the house which had ruled Kartvelia for the better part of the last millennium, every noble family and their mother was trying to present themselves as the ‘True heir of Bagrat’™. As David was the most powerful man in the region at this point, many had come to him in hopes of his help in securing the throne for themselves. However, as he was distracted with the whole ‘looming existential threat’ thing, some of them had started to eye their neighbors up, calculating their odds in the event of civil war breaking out. By January 1526, there had been a number of suspicious deaths, and it seemed as if wide-spread political violence would further dog the already flagging Caucasian nation. With the most powerful man in the region seemingly uncaring, some of the more anxious nobles sought out the aid of the second-most powerful: Mamia Dadiani.

    Dadiani and his men had remained at their post in Abkhazia even as Vakhtang had raised practically every other soldier in Kartvelia to join him in his march against the fateful horde. He had remained steadfast in his opposition to the smaller Mongol force in the region and their Circassian allies, not even withdrawing after word came of the death of the king and so many others. In late October, he successfully routed some 25,000 Mongols and Circassians at the Battle of Nikopsis, despite odds in a factor of three-to-one, and thus secured the north-western frontier for the time being. It was because of this victory that he was confident enough in the security of his zone of the region to turn and march into Imereti shortly after the beginning of the new year. He led some 8,000 men out from the frontier, hoping to forestall the outbreak of civil violence in the makeshift capital. However, he didn’t actually inform David of this, and so when the aftokrator received reports that a large Kartvelian army was coming towards the capital from the west, he panicked and scrambled together some 10,000 Ponts to meet them, praying that he wouldn’t have to fight a civil war on behalf of some foreign aristocrat with his head stuck up his ass. The two armies met at the fords of the Tekhur River in early February, the air tense with the expectation of violence.

    To their mutual surprise, the two men hit it off at once. Dadiani was, in the view of much of the Kartvelian court, a raggedly half-civilized (his mother was a member of the Svan highlanders) brute of a man who was more feared than respected, and he was happy to finally meet a fellow nobleman who treated him as an equal. David was shocked to find that Dadiani was far more grounded than the notoriously self-important Kartvelian noblemen, and moreover they were some of the few men in the region to have commanded men against the Mongols and lived to tell the tale, something which drew them both together. After a brief explanation of their respective goals, namely that David needed someone friendly on the throne who wouldn’t roll over to Arishni and his Mongol masters under any circumstances, and Dadiani wanted a strong king who he could help against the Mongols. The two men got to drinking, and concluded that Dadiani was the best candidate due to his experience and lack of connections to any faction. The decision held up when they both examined it through a throbbing hangover the next morning.

    And so, with Trapezuntine support, Mamia III of Abkhazia became Mamia III of Kartvelia on 26 February 1526. He and David planned a number of reforms and ambitious undertakings to turn the tide against the Mongols in the east, but unfortunately these plans would have to wait. In early March, David was informed by a frantic rider from Vatoume that a Rûmite army had crossed the frontier and was marching directly for Trapezous. With most of his army still needed to hold the line in the pass fortresses, David rushed for home with only 5,000 men. Even as he and his men marched, the Lord of Arishni and his masters gathered men and guns for a push westward….

    [1] Your average Mongol/Tartar mounted formation could move at a whopping sixty miles a day, during a period when the average infantry formation could make four.
    [2] The Kartvelians had been unable to spike many of their guns, and David was forced to leave many behind during his retreat in the following days.
    [3] 3 October is the feast day of Dionysios the Aeropagite. Also, I can’t remember if I wrote this down before, but @Dathi THorfinsson, I know that Dionysios was the name of the saint, I was writing from Funa’s point of view while he was trying to work himself up into a righteous fury.
    [4] It is speculated that Vakhtang knew he was losing his mind and wanted to ape Alexios V and secure the succession with an orgy of violence. This is likely just speculation, though.
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    Appendix D: September 1525, Ananuri
  • Eparkhos

    September 1525, Ananuri

    The rain patterned away at the walls of the tent, sounding like the stamping feet of marching soldiers or the faint clatter of galloping horsemen. David shuddered and crossed himself for the umpteenth time that day, but didn't break stride. He paced across the muddy quagmire that was the floor of his tent, back hunched and arms clenched behind his back. His face was set in what he hoped was a stony grimace, masking the gladiatorial emotions that were duking it out in his chest. The lives, and moreover, the souls, of tens of thousands if not more depended on his next action, and the timing couldn't have been worse.

    Twenty thousand men had been killed that day. A thousand score of good, Christian men had been butchered by a horde of infidels, and some of it was his fault. Images from the battle flashed through his mind. Kartvelian soldiers ridden down and trampled beneath Mongol hooves, the screams and desperate cries of dying men, mutilated bodies and the faces of the dead. A miasma of blood and death had hung over the valley before the rain came, and some of it still lingered. Many of the dead were his own men, loyal to their deaths. It wasn't his fault, he told himself, you didn't know the cannons were so close, nobody did! Even as he thought, he knew it wasn't really true, those men's blood was on his own head as surely as it was on the Mongols.

    But why the Mongols? Why had the come, and why did they come when he was the aftokrator? It had to be something he or Vakhtang of Kartvelia had done that had so angered God that He had sent the infidels down upon them. Vakhtang made the most sense, after all he was a serial adulterer and had been struck down by venerial disease, as well as his many baseless executions and tortures, but if the anger of Heaven came down solely on the Kartvelians, why had his men been killed as well? They had escaped the bulk of the slaughter, true, but why had they fallen as well? Had it been punishment for one of his father's crimes? No, the sins of the father and all that. It must have been some trespass he had made himself.

    He knelt, searching his mind for any blemish. It had been only a few scant hours since his last confession the night before, but perhaps there had been some sin he had forgotten. There had been a pretty girl in Kutaisi that he had lusted after, and he had ignored a pair of beggars on the road outside of Vatoume weeks before, and just a few minutes before he had insulted his father, which was against the Commandments, demoniac or no, and, and...

    For the next few hours, he tallied up every offense he could recall. The priests would no doubt be swamped with penitents as they were whenever battle seemed certain as it did now, and he didn't want to waste their time. As usual, voices began to whisper in the back of his mind as they always did when he was alone for too long.

    Why are you wasting your time with this?

    You should be making the most of your life, go out and have fun like everyone else!

    God has abandoned you, you need our help...

    He ignored them as best he could, murmuring prayers under his breath. The demons may have gotten his father, who had spoken often of the voices inside his mind and performed terrible, terrible things that no human could have dreamed of. He was determined not to let them win, and his thoughts shifted to prayers of protection and guidance. Please, O Lord, shut them up and tell me how to save myself and my people. Help me, give me strength and wisdom.


    He blinked. This voice was cool and authoritative, a far cry from the usual slimy or angry tones of the voices. The demons were getting better.

    David, listen to me, it's Alexios Mgeli. I'm here to help you.

    Sure you are. You're a clever son-of-a-bitch, I'll give you that, but you're still a demon. Get behind me, devil, and go back to hell.

    I'm not from hell, and I'm not a demon! Demon-Mgeli said, exasperation creeping into his voice. I swear before God himself that I'm trying to help you, David.

    The idea of angelic voices had occurred to him before, after all God surely wouldn't allow the devil a monopoly on communication with mortals. He'd devised a test if one of the voices claimed to be an angel, and so far all of them had failed. Prove it, he thought, say the creeds.

    I believe in one Father... the voice began, slowly reciting the Nicaean Creed. David listened closely, noting with mild surprise that he hadn't slipped into the Latin err, a mistake which he had previously caught an imposter in. The voice then continued on into the Apostolic Creed, which he completed without error.

    Alright, he thought, you have my interest. Why were you sent, and why you in particular? Are you an angel, a saint, or...?

    The next few years are going to be quite rough, and He decided you needed the help after your mishandling of the battle earlier today. I'm you're only predecessor in the last two hundred years who isn't currently in hell, and knowing how to fend off Turkish invasions will be handy in a couple of months. And I'm a martyr, technically speaking.

    Wait, I thought you died in a storm at sea? How are you a martyr?

    Well, I was coming back from Alexandria--you're grandfather's pride is one of his worse problems--about twenty-five years ago when a storm whipped up and dumped me on the Bithynian coast in front of some Türkmen. The results were... unpleasant, to say the least of it.

    Oh. I'm sorry.

    Not your fault. Anyway, here's what you need to... Wait, no, first you need to find a priest and confess before you forget. After that, you need to get all of your soldiers together in one place. They're not too happy or confident in you after today, and you need to stamp out any doubts before it spirals into mutiny. Here's what you should say...


    A few hours later, David stood atop an overturned wine casket, surveying the milling crowd of soldiers that surrounded him on all sides. A light rain fell, quieting his men and effectively killing any conversation, at least any that he could hear. His ears still rang from having a cannon fired a few dozen paces from him earlier that day, and he could barely hear anything other than the rain and his own breathing. Most of the soldiers looked irritated at best, and a fair number were giving him death glares. For a moment, he wondered if it was too late to try and get some eleutheroi between him and them before deciding that it was indeed too late.

    He took a deep breath and saluted, his armor rattling as he did so. At Mgeli's advice, he had worn his armor from the battle, its golden leaf and steel still scarred and dented by bullets and blows. Most of the soldiers returned the gesture out of respect or rhythm, but several just cast him surly looks.

    "Comrades!" he said, somberly swiveling to stare at random soldiers. "Brave comrades! Today, we have borne the brunt of the enemy assault and stood strong in the face of it, a display of valor and strength unmatched since the days of the Anabasis. Where the Kartvelians broke and fled the field, we rallied and held every inch we could against the horde of heathens, despite their great number and ferocity. I could not ask anything more from you."

    A tense silence filled the air, broken only by an insolent heckler from somewhere in the crowd. "My brother got blown to bits thanks to you!"

    David frowned and changed tact. "Many of our brothers-in-arms fell today, and it could have easily been any of us. It is because of their sacrifice, and for the sake of all our families that we must stay the line. The ruinous Scythian horde which will fall upon Kartvelia will surely turn and fall upon our homeland if we abandon the field. Think of your wives, daughters and even younger sons, and the tales I am sure you have heard of the horrors of the northern slave markets. I assure you, if we fail then their fates shall be worse than that."

    A murmur rippled across the crowd as men crossed themselves. Good, they were turning against the common enemy.

    "We must stand together against the horde for the sake of ourselves, for we will surely be killed if we do not fight and march together, and for the sake of our families, for they will surely not be killed if the invaders prevail. They outnumber us, true, but they are fractious and their many petty clans and princes squabble together. If we stand united, we shall find that we are superior to them by every metric. Not only this, but we have the blessing of the heavens. God has sent the Scythians not to destroy us, his chosen people, but to chastise us and moreover the Kartvelians for our impiety. With the lecher Vakhtang dead the path towards redemption begins. Any who fall will be taken up into heaven at once, and because of this I bid you to have no fear: God is with us."

    He crossed himself, a gesture that was followed by many of the soldiers. He began his conclusion. "On the morrow every man in the army will paint his shield with the
    chirho. All of us, Ponts, Lazes, Armenians and Kartvelians will fight as one force, united by faith and by necessity in the defense of our homes and the truth of the Gospel." He drew his sword and thrust it into the air, shouting "O STAVROS NIKA!"

    Dozens, no, hundreds of his men did the same, their hoarse shouts filling the night air and drowning out the rain. His men were cheering him, less than an hour after they had seemed ready to kill him they were cheering him. Shouts of "NIKA!" rang out through the camp as he pushed through his jubilant men towards his command tent. He was greatly relieved and for the first time since the battle felt that things might not be doomed to failure. Still, he had to meet with his lieutenants, and so the night was not yet over. He had the sinking feeling that no night would be truly over for a long time.
    Part LIII: A Tiger Reborn (1465-1526)
  • Eparkhos

    I should note that I wrote this back in mid-February, and it's been on the shelf since then, so the quality might be a bit off.

    Part LIII: A Tiger Reborn (1465-1526)

    The seventy-year long period between 1465 and 1520 had seen the Karamanid Beylik transform itself from a crippled state on the verge of death into a regional power, stronger in Anatolia than the Ottomans themselves were. Like the personified Rome which had appeared to Constantine in his second vision, the old and mangy tiger had been reborn as a young and nimble predator under several decades of capable government and lucky breaks. An era of prosperity had dawned as years of good harvests and an increasingly efficient central administration allowed for great population growth amongst both the settled and semi-nomadic subjects of the empire. Everywhere they marched, the armies of the bey were victorious, defeating Qutlughid and Çandarid armies on several occasions and raiding heavily into Ottoman and Trapezuntine territory. This run of good fortune would produce, amongst others, the restoration of the Sultanate of Rûm (referred to as the Neo-Rûmite Sultanate) in the 1490s and an unprecedented flowering of Turkish language and art. Truly, the Kayqubad Era[1] was a Karamanid golden age.

    The twin greatest achievements of Ibrahim II had been forestalling a civil war between his sons by arranging an invasion of Ottoman Anatolia, and then managing to actually pull it off. The bey himself fell in battle in 1463, while there were still several more years left in the war, but this was only a hurdle on the road to victory. When the dust settled, the feuding brothers had emerged victorious in the great struggle (with no small amount of help from the Qoyunlu) and had driven the Ottomans from much of the Plateau. This victory heralded a new era of Anatolian history, both marking the beginning of the transition of the Ottomans from a Turkish state to a Muslim Greek one as well as the ascendancy of the Karamanids over the numerous settled and nomadic peoples of the plateau and the eastern mountains.

    While the Karamanid dynasty was ascendant, a unified Karamanid state would not remerge until the 1480s. Instead, the two Karamanid beyliks--known as the rather self-explanatory Northern Beylik under Pir Ahmet and the Southern beylik under Işak would uneasily coexist, competing over practically everything, from number of subjects, to number of loyal Turkmen bands and even the number of livestock that these bands had. As you might imagine, their frontier zone was a constantly-shifting war zone as bands loyal to Konya or Ankara raided in great numbers to win booty for themselves and to further extend the power of their lords. This fratricidal struggle allowed their many enemies to gain an advantage, letting Angelović Paşa reconquer the lands once encompassed by the Germiyan ‘sultanate’, the Mamluks the opportunity to force Dulkadir back under their standard and the Qoyunlu to raid the dickens out of their eastern frontier, sacking more than a dozen cities and carrying off thousands of the beys’ subjects. This state of affairs only ended with the death of Pir Ahmet on a raid against the Çandarids in 1483. Işak assumed the lordship of the Northern Beylik and began persecuting his brother’s followers only to keel over from a stroke in 1485. He was succeeded by his son, Bayezid, better known by his regnal name, Kayqubad IV.

    Bayezid was a young and clever man, who had been raised on the legends of the great Seljuk sultans and tales of the glories of their wars and their courts. He chose his regnal name in honor of the great sultan who had campaigned from the Bosphorus in the west to the plains of al-Jazira in the east, and doubtless hoped to recreate his namesake’s successes and even surpass him. The road to do so would be long and difficult, as he was in truth the ruler of three different states that were barely bound together, but he would rise to the challenge like no man before or after him.

    The reunified Karamanid state was not so much a Karamanid state as it was three Karamanid states under personal union. The Southern Beylik, always the more settled of the two regions, had centralized to a degree under Işak’s rule, but it was still a pale shadow of what the region had been under the Rûmite Sultanate. The many canals that had once supported the population of the region had collapsed during the Turkmen invasions, and the remaining farmers were left to eke out a living on the edge of a salt desert. As you might imagine, the Karamanid heartland wasn’t much of a heartland. Instead, the breadbasket of the Karamanid realm was Cilicia, which was populated mostly by the independently-minded Armenians and was separated from the rest of Kayqubad’s realm by a series of impressive mountains, making it a ticking time-bomb for revolt. The Northern Beylik was even worse, as Pir Ahmet had effectively ruled it as a tribal confederation, essentially letting the Turkmen tribes have free reign while he squeezed everything he could out of his settled subjects, which led to near-constant revolts against the increasingly impoverished governing apparatus. Its economy and society were structured almost entirely around raiding, which meant that they were in an effective undeclared state of war with the Trapezuntines and the Qoyunlu at all times. The Turkmen tribes, meanwhile, regardless of which beylik they nominally served, took orders and missives from either Sivas or Karaman as suggestions more than anything else, and more often than not refused to pay their tribute in either gold or arms. In order to even start his planned series of reforms and expansion, Kayqubad would have to weld these three disparate groups together into something that resembled a state.

    He did so with great relish. Knowing that his desired reforms would require him to possess a great deal of legitimacy in the eyes of all of his subjects, he first set out on a series of campaigns to build up a military reputation for himself. In 1487, he rode against the Second Çandarid Beylik, fighting his way across the Alexandretta Mountains[2] and into the plains of Syria, where he fell upon their capital, Aleppo, like a bolt from the blue. While he was unable to take the capital city itself in spite of the fearsome power of his siege train, he was able to cow the beylerbeyi, Suleyman V, into submission. The Çandarids’ mountain territories, Malatya and the surrounding valleys in the north and the Alexandretta fortresses in the west, were ceded to the Karamanids, while the surviving beylik was forced to pay heavy tribute to Konya. This angered both the Mamluks and the Qoyunlu, who themselves already imposed heavy tributes on the Syrian state, and Bayezid was forced to defend his conquests twice on the field of battle, at the Battle of the Euphrates against Qoyunlu in May 1488 and fending off a Mamluk amphibious strike against Anatolia proper at Silifke in August. Bayezid was determined to cling to his new conquests, and eventually the Mamluks decided to let it drop, while he ultimately reached an agreement with the Qoyunlu, in which the latter pushed their edge of the buffer zone to the Euphrates’ left bank to counterbalance the expansion of Karamanid influence in the region.

    With his legitimacy secured by a string of victories, Bayezid turned his attention to his true desire: internal reform. The greatest obstacle to his secret intentions was the power that was wielded by the hard-living, free-riding Turkmen tribes and bands of the inner plateau, who were in truth only nominal vassals of Konya and could essentially rule as they saw fit. The reason why the Turkmen wielded such political strength was quite simple: physical strength. While most of the bands didn’t pay taxes, they could almost always be expected to rally to the banner of the bey if they were promised the looting and pillaging that was common in warfare during this time. Because of this, they had made up the majority of the Karamanid army in the preceding decades, which kept any would-be reformers from moving against them. Bayezid recognized this, and after winning his Çandarid War he set about breaking their hold on power.

    His hoped for first step was to raise a standing army that was loyal only to him and not to the various tribes, elders and Sufis of the Turkmen. However, this project ran full-force into its first speed bump before the first thousand men had even been raised: money. There was a very good reason why his forebears had relied so heavily upon the Turkmen for their military strength, namely because raising an army costs a lot of money, very little of which was to be had in the parts of Anatolia which they controlled. The waves of Turkmen migration had effectively wrecked the agriculture-based economy of the old Sultanate of Rum, and the Karamanids were dependent on remnants of farming that still persisted along the coastal rim of Anatolia and in the eastern mountains, alongside the taxes--tribute, really--paid by the Turkmen tribes and the limited amount of trade that still passed through the region. Since the Qoyunlu and the Trapezuntines had allied, they had a policy of funneling westward trade up into Trapezous rather than across Anatolia, as there was little love lost between either of them and the Karamanids and the Qoyunlu received a sizable kickback from their scheme. With such a poor domestic economy, Bayezid was left with two ways of financing his aspired force. One, trying to steer trade through the Karamanid realm, which would have been feasible if he hadn’t just seriously pissed off all of his three eastern neighbors, and two, revolutionizing the Karamanid tax infrastructure to squeeze out every coin they could from their existing tax base. Unsurprisingly, Bayezid opted for the latter.

    Throughout most of its history, the Karamanid state(s) had relied upon the ancient method of tax farming to collect its non-tariff derived revenues. Tax farming was inefficient and bred resentment within the populace, as tax collectors would often extort the people within their assigned district for many times what they actually owed, which just enriched them and pissed off the people with no benefit to the state. Bayezid would, from 1490 on, adopt a more centralized form of tax collection, in part modeled upon that of the neighboring Trapezuntine Empire, whose administrative system he saw as an ideal form for his own realm to adopt. This new system, called the bērşygü or plow-field area, would remove many of the inefficiencies of the tax farming system, which would both increase the money which the treasury saw enter its coffers and decrease how much the peasants actually had to pay. The population of the Karamanid state was somewhere around two million, and so this new tax system was able to raise a not-insubstantial amount of coin. It worked in the following manner: The Karamanid state was divided into 180 ‘tax provinces’, each of which stretched out from the capital city of Konya, and each of which was subdivided into ten ‘tax prefectures’. The staffing of each tax prefecture varied, as you might imagine, depending on population, with the more urbanized east and south having far more than the sparsely-populated north and west. Each of these tax prefectures--manned only by employees of the state--would collect a certain amount of money (calculated in the decade census) and transfer it to the central treasury. Anyone caught grifting would be executed, and their families sold into slavery. Anyone caught embezzling would, well, I don’t think I can post that on this site. Within five years of its institution, the new institution had more than tripled the total income of the Karamanid state, and the relationship between the bey and his subjects had markedly improved, as they saw a net tax decrease because of the streamlining of the tax process. Even the Armenians, who were as always subject to the jizya tax, were mollified by the reforms, as they had faced the worst of the corruption and the grafting.

    With the financial constraints that had derailed his first attempt at militarization removed, Bayezid was free to raise the army he had always hoped for. The Turkmen were intentionally secluded by a number of covert methods--bribes, distractions, being kicked upstairs--leaving the military domain to one of three groups: the Seljuks, the Armenians and the mamluks/Zazas. Like so many other Muslim states, Bayezid made the core of his army several hundred slave soldiers, which bore more resemblance to the eleutheroi of Trapezous than they did to the mamluks of the Mamluk Sultanate. He also elevated the Zazas, a federation of Kurd-adjacent war-like tribes from the eastern fringe of the Karamanid realm, to the chief military grouping of his realm, entrusting them with unparalleled positions of power in exchange for them devoting themselves entirely to war. The reason for this was simple; as most of the Zazas were Alevis, them trying to depose him would be met with an uprising by the Sunni majority of the country, which meant that they had a vested interest in keeping him on his throne. The Zazas essentially occupied the role the Turkmen had in previous Karamanid armies, forming a force of swift and well-trained horse archers that would wear down the enemy with ranged harassment. Because of their constant training, Bayezid was confident that the Zazas would be superior to the Turkmen in terms of combat efficacy. He also attempted to institute a system of militias equivalent to the Trapezuntine bandon system, but given the more intensive nature of agriculture in southern Anatolia in comparison to Pontos this was not as effective. However, the Seljuk and Armenian infantry units that Bayezid would succeed in training became light and heavy infantry (respectively) without comparison in the Levant, roughly equal to Ottoman line forces and superior to Trapezuntine bandons, Mamluk infantry, Çandarid footmen and Qutlughid conscripts, in decreasing order of quality. By 1495, he had raised an army of some 15,000 men, an impressive force considering that many thousands of other levymen could be raised in times of war. The standing army was named the nafjayş.

    Bayezid then set about crushing the Turkmen. His first action was to unilaterally declare the unification of the Northern and Southern Beyliks in 1493, which raised little protest. He then began the long process of expanding the bureaucracy of the Southern Beylik northwards, which prompted several minor uprisings by angry peasants and herders, all of which were crushed. By 1496, the two states had been woven together once again, leaving the Turkmen who ranged across the former internal border as next on the chopping block. As the Northern Beylike began to recover, the bey turned his attention to the aforementioned semi-nomads, moving forces towards the edge of the plateau under a variety of pretexts in the following years. In 1499, he declared that the Turkmen must settle down or be expelled from the beylik. When the Turkmen, as expected, refused to do either, he struck. A Karamanid army pushed north from Konya and another moved west from Sivas, catching the nomadic tribes between hammer and anvil. In a series of running battles across the Plateau, Bayezid and his Zaza horsemen whipped out the Turkmen, either reducing them to normal subjectivity or driving them across the Ottoman border, whence they became the Sublime Porte’s problem. The climactic battle of the Great Turkmen Revolt, the Battle of Lake Tuz, was fought in 1502 on the western shore of that lake, between Bayezid and some 10,000 loyal soldiers and the Turkman leader Çağri with 8,000. Though the Turkmen hurled themselves at the Karamanid lines, they were unable to break through and were left completely exhausted. Then the Zaza sprung from ambush, and the Turkmen were either slaughtered or barely managed to escape across the border. In merely three years, Bayezid had succeeded in reducing the scourges of so many previous Karamanid rulers. Indeed, he believed he had surpassed them, and unified most of eastern and central Anatolia under one rule for the first time in nearly three centuries. And so, he entered Konya in a triumphal procession modeled on those of the Romans of old, a long trail of Turkmen slaves behind him. On 3 May 1502, he proclaimed himself Kayqubad IV, Sultan of Rûm, and inaugurated the Neo-Rumite Sultanate, as it would become known to history.

    Kayqubad made good use of his new army to expand the Rûmite sphere out in all directions. He scented weakness in the newly-established Qutlughids in 1511 after Arslan II was defeated in a war against the Uzbeks on the far side of the aforementioned empire, and invaded to take advantage while he was distracted. He laid siege to Malatya, the chief fortress of the Qutlughid west, and despite several weeks of near-constant bombardment was unable to break through its walls. Instead, he enveloped the city and sent raiders down into Mesopotamia, where they raided heavily against the nigh-on defenseless locals of the Jaziran plain and carried off many slaves and much booty. He then moved eastwards and ravaged the borderlands, successfully capturing the regional center of Erzurum and recovering Erzincan, which had been lost during the reign of Pir Ahmet. With the situation in the east worsening, Arslan reluctantly sued for peace and ceded the three aforementioned cities to Konya’s control, transferring soldiers from the west to shore up the east before ultimately defeating the Uzbek Khan in 1515. This opportunistic land grab essentially killed any hope of Qutlugh-Rûmite reconciliation or even long term peace, which in hindsight made the cities essentially a poison pill.

    Kayqubad also struck against the Ottomans during their civil war, invading the Turkmen-dominated eastern regions in 1514. This was partly to annex more land and partly to crush the reviving Turkmen before they could pose a threat to him, as in recent years they had begun to raid across the border with increasing frequency, which was quickly turning from an annoyance to a threat. With most of the Ottoman forces busy in Europe or Bithynia, he was able to quickly overrun much of the southern interior, crushing an alliance of Ottoman and Turkmen forces at Afyonkarahisar in August 1514 and putting the other Turks decidedly on the backfoot. In the following campaign seasons he would occupy Pamphylia and the greater part of the interior, driving the Turkmen towards the coast[3]. However, while he was able to dominate much of the interior, he was unable to break into the plains and valleys of the west thanks to the formidable Ottoman defenses at the Lyconian Gates[4], which successfully resisted several month-long bombardments before Kayqubad decided to abandon attacks in that direction in 1517. He decided that it was best to let the Ottomans and the Trapezuntines bleed each other, and so Rûmite forces remained mostly in the south. In 1519, Ebülhayr Paşa finally assented to Kayqubad’s demands, and his annexation of the Antalyan plains and everything south and east of the western mountains were officially recognized. This accomplished one of the sultan’s chief goals, securing a port (his attempt to turn the small fishing village of Aphrodisias into a major port was the chief failure of his reign as the renamed Kayqubadabad had quickly turned into nothing but a money pit, but it also brought him into further conflict with the Turkmen. The famous ‘Anabasis of the Turcomans’ would begin in 1521, as some 20,000 Turkmen and their families would flee eastwards across Anatolia, managing to defeat or dodge every attempt to halt them before escaping into the plains of Syria, where most of them joined up with the Çandarids. This, arguably, would have a greater impact on history by starting the long and convoluted chain of events that would lead to the collapse of the Mamluk Sultanate, but that is beyond the scope of this.

    After a total reign of thirty-six years, and a life of sixty-two, Kayqubad IV would die in his sleep in the Palace of Konya in 1521. He had managed to keep his government clean of harem politics, and as such his most competent son, Suleiman, age thirty-one, would succeed him as Kilij Arslan V. Kilij Arslan was a fairly quiet man but was a skilled administrator and competent general and soldier, and it appeared his reign would be an extension of his father’s string of successes. However, this hope would be violently disrupted in January 1526, when he was, like Alexios V before him, shot through an open window by Francesco Skaramagos. The fallout from this would catapult his son Kadir to the throne, and it would be Kadir who would lead an invasion of the Trapezuntine Empire in the spring of 1526….
    Part LIV: Opening Shots (1526)
  • Eparkhos

    I'll be honest, this is probably shit. I wrote it right after I had the accident so it's not that good, but I just have a shit ton of school stuff I have to do and a perpetual headache and I just can't bring myself to rewrite it, you know?

    Part LIV: Opening Shots (1526)

    The rivalry between Trapezous and Rûm had lasted for centuries. The Trapezuntines, with a direct if tenuous connection to the glories of old Rome itself, considered themselves to be the sole legitimate successors of that venerable empire and thus took the Rûmite’s belief that they were the true heirs as not just insolent but a direct insult to their realm and their dynasty. The Rûmites, for their part, believed that they had become the heirs of Rome by force of arms and the Trapezuntines foolishly and insolently refused to acknowledge this, presenting an insult to both their realm and their dynasty. Because of the mutual intransigence of their positions, the two states had been locked in a cold war since the beginning of the Neo-Rûmite Sultanate in the 1490s. Raiding and counter-raiding had been commonplace across their long shared border, but for more than thirty years it never escalated beyond that. An uneasy and weak peace had been worked out, sufficient to prevent the outbreak of outright war, but little beyond that. Then the death of Kilij Arslan V at the hands of a Pontic assassin radically upset the balance, leaving the Neo-Rûmites howling for blood. As Rûmite outriders flooded over the frontier, the Trapezuntines would realise too late that a great and terrible scourge had fallen upon them…

    On the night of 26 January 1526, the sultan of Rûm, Kilij Arslan V, was in his study with his grand vizier, Iskandar ibn Ayyub al-Saamat. The sultan and al-Saamat were discussing the problem of recurring raids by Turkmen tribes under Qutlughid protection, which happened to take place beside a window. Backlit by the light of the room, the sultan was an easy target for Skaramagos, who crouched behind the dome of a nearby building. A single quarrel split the night sky, taking the sultan through the heart and killing him instantly. The killer then fled before a search could be organized. Within a day, most of Kilij Arslan’s sons were dead as well. Fearing his assassination by an overly-ambitious heir, the sultan had ordered that his adult sons be served poisoned wine before any of them took the throne. As wine was forbidden under Islamic jurisprudence[1], he expected that God would intervene to keep his ablest son from drinking the foul liquid. Unfortunately, the only who refrained were his sons Ibrahim, who was by all accounts a very kind and gentle man completely unsuited for ruling, and Kadir (b.1508). Kilij Arslan had suspected Kadir’s mother of infidelity and thus after his birth had him castrated and his mother put to death. The presence of an inexperienced and minor son of the old sultan upon the throne was sure to cause problems, but before any other members of the Karamanid dynasty could try and unseat him, he struck. Declaring that the assassin must have been in the service of the Trapezuntine aftokrator, who had seemed to be marshalling for war a few years before, he issued a formal declaration of war in late February and began preparing an invasion.

    The nafjayş was in and of itself an impressive force--especially by the standards of a state only two generations removed from existence as a federation of Turkmen tribes--but it would not be sufficient to win the war itself. As such, Kadir began mobilizing conscripts from across the Rûmite realm to supplement the nafjayş. Not wanting to waste the advantage of surprise, he dispatched the Zazas of the standing army to raid into Trapezuntine territories and cause general havoc and mayhem to slow the mustering of the bandons and redeployment of forces from the east. Most important, he gave their commanders the initiative to seize anything or anyone that they deemed may be important to the war effort. Many of the Zazas were stationed in cities close to the border, especially in Sivas, Erzincan and Erzurum, from which they could threaten the Pontic heartland itself. Within days of the proclamation of hostilities, they ranged deep into enemy territory.

    The chief goals of the Zaza raiders were to sow chaos in the frontier zone, aiming to prevent the frontier defenses from being fully manned and the bandons from mustering out to join the war proper. In this they were very successful, spreading terror across the Trapezuntine hinterland with fast-moving terror attacks that would appear and disappear like the mountain demons of Lazic folklore. Their targets varied from villages and hamlets to barracks, fortified camps and overlays, in addition to their universal attacks on roads and bridges, which would dramatically slow any attempt to respond and drive them out. Many of the local bandons were caught piecemeal and shattered by the mobile and skilled horse archers, but in some areas they were able to cordon off defensible areas and resist the raiders by force of arms. Despite the success of these efforts, the greatest impacts the Zazas would have on the course of the conflict came on two singular occasions. The Trapezuntines had, understandably, not been the kindest to the Turks who they had recently conquered, and because of this there was a great deal of resentment in areas that still held large Turkish populations. These were concentrated along the frontier, and in many places small camps or villages were incited to revolt against the Greeks. Such events would even take place in cities. In early March, the raiders crossed the frontier in central Nikaia, arriving at the trading town of Nalisaray, which still held a Turkish majority. Several ulema within the town incited their followers to revolt, and the mob of angry Seljuks and Turkmen were able to storm several gatehouses and throw open the portculli, surrendering the city to the Rûmites.

    Tarkhaneiotes sprung into action, knowing that time was of the essence. David had about a third of the realistic forces available to Trapezous at that moment all the way in Kartvelia, and worse still those men had been primarily drawn from the bandons along the coast, which meant that the most secure and strongest of the units were hundreds of kilometers away. Even worse, it was almost entirely coastal bandons who were holding Alexandria and the Gothic hills from the Golden Horde, which had swamped the rest of Perateia within weeks of that conflict beginning. He ordered the bandons to muster out across the Empire, knowing that he had little time before the Rûmites were too widespread to be contained. Several dozen ‘divisions’ of four bandons east were hastily formed with their mustering point set to be the nearest defensible hardpoint, and riders sent out across the country to organize them. Depending on the proximity of Turkish forces to the hardpoint, they would either dig in or move to a secondary regional center, where they would join with other divisions into a proper army. While the bandons were rushing together, Tarkhaneiotes also mustered a mixed force of mercenaries, veteran refugees from Kartvelia (of which there were many) and the bandons closest to Trapezous to defend the Alys Gorge and keep the Rûmites from getting any ideas about penetrating into Pontos proper, altogether numbering some 10,000 strong.

    Meanwhile, across the lines, Kadir had managed to raise some 20,000 men from both the militias around the capital and the nafjayş, which could be reinforced by militias drawn from near the border, by the end of March. He set out at once for the north, hoping to reach Inner Paphlagonia within a few weeks’ time, at which point he could begin a determined and forceful offensive against Trapezuntines in that region. The sultan’s hope was that by taking all of Inner Paphlagonia with haste--not too demanding of a task considering the large Turkish populations present within the region--he could essentially break the back of the Greek Empire, forcing them to rely on more difficult and expensive sea transport to connect Bithynia and Pontos. By doing so with great alacrity, he could shock the Trapezuntines into submission and force them to cede his conquests with little loss on his own part. He expected that it would take several wars to dismember the Trapezuntine state, and believed that a quick and speedy annexation of Paphlagonia would be the best way to start this off. As he and his men advanced, they began to face supply problems, as they were crossing what was essentially a giant desert that had been depopulated of its inhabitants, who would usually help succor an army such as his, by his grandfather’s anti-Turkmen campaigns of the previous century. A handful of Turkmen bands had managed to survive in the most isolated parts of the desert, and they came out in full force in hopes of being able to take a crack at the sultan himself, revenge for their slaughtered families.

    To the west, Nikaia was in a secure position. The southern mountains protected it from the brunt of the Turkish assault, but it still faced attacks from the west and, increasingly, the north-west. It was fortuitous that Lakharnas, the regent there, had taken David’s instructions in regards to the junior empire’s defenses to heart and fully enacted the bandons system there, as well as constructing a number of fortifications on all possible routes of attack. Within weeks of the war beginning, he was able to raise a force of nearly 10,000 to secure the western half of the joint Greek realm. He moved with great vigor, not waiting for the Turks to arrive in his domain to begin countermeasures across all of it. After the fall of Nallisaray, he recognized that the southern plateau cities of Nikaia could not be held at the time being and gave the order to abandon Beypazar, evacuating its populace to safety in the north and destroying all Turkish property within the city, enslaving its Turkish residents and putting them to use as forced labor for the benefit of the Megalokomnenoi. After the surrender of the aforementioned city, he became certain that the Turkish Trapezuntines would betray them and ordered the general massacre of Turks across Nikaia, going so far as to kill every Turk above the age of three in Bolu. He attempted to advance on Gerede and mete out a similar fate, but was forced to retire by the arrival of Turkish outriders in his flank during a battle with the Geredean militia west of that town. He also installed garrisons in Pontoherakleia and Amastris, seeking to bring all Trapezuntine forces in the west under his central command.

    While the butchery of so many innocent Turks did ensure that Bolu and similar cities remained under Greek control, it had the exact opposite effect in Paphlagonia. Most cities dissolved into street fighting between garrison forces and Greco-Armenian militias on the one hand and Turkish militias on the other, the latter often being reinforced by Zazas and allies from Rûmite territories. Gerede was taken by Rûmite forces before Kadir and his army had even reached Lake Tuz, while Safranbolu and Eflani both fell within a few weeks’ time thanks to the vigor of the local Turkish militias and the shocking alacrity of Rûmite cavalry. Kastamone would see some of the worst of the internecine fighting, as its garrison commander, Ioannes Khaltzes, was fully aware of how much of crushing morale blow the loss of the city would be to his empire and ordered his men to fight on to the last. Despite the large Turkish population, the Trapezuntine forces emerged victorious after several days of slaughter, putting every Muslim in the city to the sword and razing all of their buildings and mosques. Supplies were rushed into the city by Tarkhaneiotes’ command, as many innocents as possible evacuated, and the garrison and militias settled in for a siege.

    By the end of May, the situation in the Trapezuntine Empire had seemed to settle some, but in fact had merely hit terminal velocity in its free-fall. Two armies drew nearer as June did as well, David’s from the east and Kadir’s from the south. The First Rûmite-Trapezuntine War was about to begin in earnest….
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    Part LV: The Best Defense (1526 - 1527)
  • Eparkhos

    Part LV: The Best Defense (1526 - 1527)

    By the time David and whatever forces he could scrape together from the east returned to Trapezous, things were rapidly spiraling out of hand. The Rûmites had overrun much of Inner Paphlagonia and now seemed poised to finish the job, as Kadir and his forces approached with enough firepower to level Boyabad and Kastamone, the only fortresses standing between the Turks and the Pontic lowlands. The bandons were scattered across the country and would need time to be reorganized into a fighting force, time that neither David or Trapezous had. Trapezous was on the verge of being crippled or utterly destroyed and nothing seemed able to stop it, except for maybe a miracle….

    The aftokrator landed in his capital on 25 March, having spent the last three weeks on a manic march across the plains of Imereti before taking ship in Vatoume and making a harrowing voyage back to Trapezous, buffeted by fierce winds and waves as he went. He was greeted on the docks by a small crowd led by Alexios Kaballarios, his megas domestikos, who told the aftokrator that he had escaped from prison the day before, only hours before his scheduled execution, and had had to hide in a drain pipe until he spotted the returning monarch. David had left a bureaucrat named Thomas Papadopoulos as his regent before departing for Kartvelia the year prior, hoping that his timid nature and all-around tepidity would keep him from getting any ideas in his absence. This had worked for a time, but as soon as word of the Rûmite invasion came, the glorified desk jockey panicked and handed the regency off to an experienced general fresh from the provinces. This was a fairly smart move, and had he summoned, say, the megas domestikos, who was at that time dealing with what he thought were some Turkmen raiders in the Lykos Valley, it could have led to a smooth transition of power that would help the Trapezuntines face down the invaders. Hell, if he had called up one of moirarkhs from Trapezous’ hinterlands, it could have helped create a united front. Instead, Papadopoulos summoned Sabbas Tarkhaneiotes from Sinope and appointed him regent, without even bothering to inform David of doing this[1].

    Tarkhaneiotes had moved at once. This was a golden opportunity, if he was able to route the Rûmites now, he would be the savior of all Trapezous and all Greeks and he could finally, finally, have enough legitimacy to overthrow the Komnenoi and install himself as aftokrator. He summoned Kavallarios to the capital and then arrested him, along with anyone else who would have the desire to inform the aftokrator of this quasi-usurpation. Kavallarios had been particularly troubling, and so after getting the greenlight from the Patriarch he scheduled his execution before gathering up the bandons from the surrounding region and marching west to join the fray. Kavallarios had managed to dodge his execution, of course, and now David was very, very angry at this upstart. He and his men quickly went through the city, freeing all of Tarkhaneiotes’ political prisoners and arresting all of his supporters, installing Kavallarios as his new regent. He then set about scraping together a force of bandons, mercenaries and slave soldiers to deal with the invading hordes, and this one prick of a subcommander. He had managed to assemble a ragged and makeshift force by the middle of April; 5,000 veterans from Ananuri, 17 (4,250) bandons, 2,500 mercenaries and 500 conscripted vagabonds and slaves with no value other than acting as human shields. With this semblance of a campaign army, he set out along Tarkhaneiotes’ trail two months behind.

    By the time he reached the Alys Gorge, things had changed dramatically once again. Kadir had arrived in Paphlagonia only two days behind David himself, and like Tarkhaneiotes he had immediately leapt into action. Splitting off two forces of 2,500 men each, his lieutenants had laid siege to Kastamone and Boyabad, respectively, pinning down the two largest Trapezuntine forces on the plateau and threatening the ancestral capital of the Megalokomnenoi itself in one smooth move[2]. He sent cavalry forward to scout and probe Trapezuntine defenses in Outer Paphlagonia and western Pontos, while he kept the bulk of his forces in reserve on the Plateau, where they would be free to strike at will. He had, in his mind at least, placed himself into the ultimate advantageous position; if the Trapezuntines or Nikaians struck out at him, he could intercept them and crush them; if they cowered on the other side of the mountains, then Kastamone and Boyabad would be taken with ease, opening the road across the mountains and attaining his goals for this first war. Of course, it would be preferable if the Ponts came out into the open so he could slaughter them but hey, it was his day to lose either way.

    Special vigor was devoted to the assault on Kastamone, as Kadir calculated that a determined and prolonged assault there would serve best to draw out the Trapezuntines. Dozens of cannons were brought up to the city, subjecting the defenders and their families to round-the-clock bombardment from all directions. The city’s walls had been rebuilt under Ratetas, so the Trapezuntines were able to withstand the punishing bombardment with relatively light casualties. Cannonballs and other projectiles--the former soon nicknamed ‘Kadir’s stones’ pounded away at the city’s defenses for hours on end, crews of gunners rotating in and out to keep the assault constant and only breaking when the guns threatened to overheat and explode. Gradually, the hastily-erected dirt berms which had been raised around the city were worn down[3], clearing the way for direct assault, and the stone and mortar walls of the city seemed as if they would be next. Khaltzes, knowing that the defenders would be unable to repulse a direct assault, raced to put together a response, and eventually, figured one out. The cannons on the city’s walls were too exposed to Rûmite artillery and would be blow to hell if their crews tried to man them there; given the primitive stage of cannon development, this meant that they could be barely used at all and thus were able to lay down suppressing fire to lessen the constant bombardment. Khaltzes ordered the cannons taken off the walls and raised levers so that their barrels just barely rose above the top of the wall and then opened fire, his men missing most of their shots but succeeding in forcing the Turkish cannonade to be pulled back, which bought them and their comrades more time. The Trapezuntines had just invented the howitzer. Kadir used this as an excuse to desist from any assaults, but in truth he didn’t wish to lose any men on what was supposed to be a bait attack. Throughout May and June, the worst months of the siege, he waited in his camp, which lay some twenty miles east of the city, for news of a Trapezuntine response, but none seemed to mobilize. At the same time, his scouts didn’t report any concentration of men other than the smallish force that was holding the Alys Gorge. Would David not only sacrifice two of his cities, but leave a highway into his heartland barely defended? The Trapezuntines must have been gutted by the war in Kartvelia, he concluded, there was no way in hell that they would do something as stupid as this! What the hell was going on?

    This abnormally quiet state of affairs continued for the next six weeks, throughout the end of June and all of July. Kastamone itself was forced to surrender due to starvation on July 14, but Kadir treated the starving defenders with surprising mercy, calculating that dangling the threat of razing the city and massacring its inhabitants over the Trapezuntines would be worth more than just doing so outright and throwing away such a lovely opportunity for extortion. The main point of attack was shifted to Boyabad; the continued presence of a Pontic garrison there made any advance down the Alys nigh-on impossible, and holding it would essentially slash the heel of any future Pontic offenses into Inner Paphlagonia. Cannonade pounded away at the city’s formidable citadel, which rose some two hundred feet above the surrounding plain and had been fortified by successive rulers ever since the Çandarid anarchy in the 1460s. The Rûmites, meanwhile, merged their siege forces together and dispatched 5,000 men to test the Nikaian section of the frontier for any weakness, keeping some 25,000 men behind at Boyabad All the while, Kadir sent further probing expeditions down the Alys, wondering where the Trapezuntine army was. He would soon find out.

    On the evening of 10 August, a ragged and dazed-looking rider came into the Rûmite siege camp outside Boyabat, asking to be brought to see the sultan. When Kadir met him, the man informed him that he was the commander of one of his Zaza formations, and that everyone else in his unit was dead. He wove a tale of woe and destruction, speaking of how his and several other Zaza formations, as well as several thousand militiamen and would-be ghazis from the eastern edge of the sultanate had come together west of Ezurum to meet a supposed Trapezuntine invasion force. The Rûmites, numbering some 6,000 strong, had made contact with and given chase to an estimated force of seven bandons up the Lykos Gorge, where that river’s valley narrowed to only a few dozen feet wide and was surrounded by sheer cliffs. The horsemen were able to enter with relative ease, as a dry summer had weakened the river to a bare tickle. They had rounded a bend in the canyon to see the Ponts scrambling up the cliffs on rope ladders and a torrential wall of water--supposedly fifty feet high--surging towards them. The lucky captain had managed to grab hold of one of the ladders and cling to it as the flood swept his men and his comrades downstream to their deaths. Once the floodwater had receded, he had found a horse and ridden with all speed to Boyabad to inform the sultan of this disaster, for there were no more fighting men left in the east. The captain then drew his sword and fell upon it.

    Couriers flooded in from all directions in the following days, bearing confused and panicked messages from all across the northern half of the Rûmite Sultanate. Seeming hordes of Ponts had come swarming out of the mountains, catching the unsuspecting Turks completely off-guard and supposedly carrying the day wherever they went. Hundreds, no, thousands, of Rûmite soldiers and militia had been slain, thousands more wounded or deserted, dozens of towns had been captured or burned, and hundreds of Greek and Armenian slaves freed. Kadir was overwhelmed with it all and struggled to sort through the influx of pleas for aid and salvation, spending all of his time trying to get a handle on the situation and subsequently not paying attention to the events playing out to the north as his army grew ever more splintered….

    Back in early May, David had arrived at the Alys Gorge to find Tarkhaneiotes camped before its mouth with an army slightly smaller than his own, dug in after barely repelling a Rûmite reconnaissance in force a few days before. The aftokrator stormed into the camp demanding to know what the hell Tarkhaneiotes thought he was doing and threatening to send him on the next ship to Alexandria, only to be met by a smug general who ignored his threats. Tarkhaneiotes explained that this army was loyal to him after he successfully turned back the Turkish assault, and as they were about a third of the total Trapezuntine force in the field at that point, David couldn’t do anything; punish or try to kill him, and he would make him a martyr. The young ruler stormed out in cold silence, plotting already.

    Tarkhaneiotes woke two days later with a bag over his head and a horse between his legs, head stuffed from the cocktail of sedatives a loyal officer had placed in his drink. After a few moments, his ears stopped ringing and the sack was roughly pulled off, revealing a cold David shouting to the assembled army how he had caught Tarkhaneiotes trying to slip out of the camp with maps of the camp and formations written in Persian, doubtless meant for the Rûmites. The eleutheroi had to beat back the angry mob of men that rushed the bound general, and it was only with great effort that David calmed the soldiers. Tarkhaneiotes was sent back to Trapezous under armed guard, with orders for Kaballarios to throw Tarkhaneiotes in a sunless hole under constant surveillance, to be killed if anyone tried to break him out--as he repeatedly told the bastard--and to then had the regency over to Ionela and come join him as soon as possible.

    David then turned his attention to the situation at hand, finding it not to his liking. While the nominal strength of his force was equal to the Rûmite army that laid siege to Kastamone, it was equal to the Turks only on paper, and the Trapezuntines would certainly be defeated if they attempted to meet the Rûmites on an equal field, and likely even if an action took place on ground that was to the Ponts’ favor. However, he couldn’t just leave Kastamone and especially not Boyabad out to be conquered, as their loss would give the Rûmites an open road into the Pontic heartland. After some time, he concluded that his best option was to try and pull off Rûmite forces so that he could strike against the bulk of their force and relieve Boyabad.

    Once Kaballarios arrived in the Trapezuntine camp, David was able to begin implementing his plan. Eight of the twenty bandons which had accompanied him to Ananuri and back would be broken off, along with sixteen bandons either freshly raised or from Tarkhaneiotes’ army, giving him a force of some 6,000 men and leaving 15,000 men to hold the pass. Kaballarios was charged with whipping the motley bands into a true fighting force in David’s absence, and to give backbone to this force the surviving eleutheroi and most of the Trapezuntine artillery train were left with him. Meanwhile, David sent a coded message to Lakharnas in Nikaia, asking him to begin an offensive southward on the day after the Transfiguration[4]. Meanwhile, the aftokrator and his newly-mounted force of infantry[5] rushed eastward; timing must be tight if David’s plan were to work.

    On the designated day, the offensive began. Lakharnas’ force exploded out of the Bithynian hills, moving with alacritous speed for an entirely infantry force. The Rûmites had focused the bulk of their forces at Gerede and Nalisaray, as these had been the expected sites for a counter-attack, and so they were completely unprepared for 5,000 Nikaian footmen to coming streaming south-west out of the mountains, running along the edge of the Ottoman frontier before swinging out to attack Eskişehir on 10 August. The city’s garrison had been transferred to Nalisaray, and so the militia of the town were unprepared for such a sudden attack. The Nikaians feasted and pillaged the city--Lakharnas had turned his army into a giant flying column, prioritizing speed and maneuverability over supply--before moving out two days later, continuing his south-westward run. Five days later, the Nikaians arrived at Kütahya, a major trading city on the western edge of the plateau. Once again, the defenders were caught off guard and the city was taken, but rather than pillaging as in Eskişehir they burned the city, smashing the kilns of the city’s ceramic district and destroying anything that couldn’t be nailed down. They then turned north and made for Nikaia, Lakharnas being forced to abandon his desired burning of Eskişehir by the arrival of several thousand Rûmite horsemen. The Nikaians would manage to escape back across the frontier near Kolpazar, the Turks nipping at their heels. The operation, in the west at least, was a complete success.

    In the east, David and his mounted infantry began their offensive on the same date, striking south from Neokasieria on horseback. They struck first at Tokat, succeeding in drawing the garrisons of Erzincan and much of the Rûmite east into a pursuit down the Lykos Gorge. David had intended to pin them down and massacre his pursuers in the narrow valley, but as it turned out it was much easier to just overload the irrigation dams on the southern end of the valley and then blow them, hence annihilating the Rûmite force with shockingly few losses. He then advanced to Erzincan on 24 August, advancing without cannons or a baggage train in another instance of speed prioritization. Erzincan was one of the few Shiite centers of Anatolia and as such had little love for the Konya regime, and David was able to strike a deal with the Qizilbaş, a militant Shiite order from the surrounding hill country; the Shiites would keep the Trapezuntines supplied, and in exchange the Pontics would leave them unmolested.

    David then left his expeditionary force, riding with all speed north-westward accompanied only by a small group of guards. As planned, he met with Kaballarios en route and confirmed that everything was going to plan, after which the two commanders continued their ride, completing their switching of commands. While the aftokrator continued Kaballarios’ training of the makeshift army, the megas domestikos continued David’s breakneck offensive. He dispatched two bandons to seize Erzurum, the far easternmost possession of the Rûmites, in an ultimately doomed expedition.. Kaballarios then continued his southward advance, taking the cliffside citadel of Çemişgezek by deception, then using its captured artillery to pound the mountaintop fortress of Harput into submission before advancing on Malatya, raiding the lands around the city before retreating.

    These raids had the desired effect of forcing Kadir to split his forces, as the fall of a city as large and prominent as Malatya would be a nightmare for a regime such as his, and some 10,000 of the 25,000 Rûmite soldiers in Paphlagonia were hastily sent eastward or westward to supplement the local militias that were doing the bulk of the fighting against the Pontic raiders. Even worse, as far the sultan was concerned, Boyabad remained defiant and the campaign season was drawing to a close, meaning that he would have to dismiss the militia in his already reduced army, only further weakening his position. With great reluctance, the sultan gave the order in early November, hoping that the snows and the frost would keep the Trapezuntines at bay for long enough for him to reassemble his army in the spring. David, meanwhile, was eagerly awaiting the end of the winter, having already committed his forces to winter camp; the Rûmite levies would be forced to traipse back and forth across their realm to return to their homes and then back to the field army, while the bandons would have to cross only a tenth of that distance.

    The future of Rûm and Rome hung in the frosty winter air….

    [1] Papadopoulos would later claim that his message to David had been lost at sea, but the veracity of this is undeterminable.
    [2] Kadir had done a great deal of research on Trapezuntine governance and mentality before his invasion, and the significance of Kastamone was not lost upon him.
    [3] Dirt berms were commonly raised to prevent cannonballs from impacting directly on the ramparts of a fortress, making enemy assault much more difficult
    [4] That is, 7 August.
    [5] Mounted infantry are just that, infantry who ride to and from the battle but cannot actually fight in the saddle.
    Part LVI: Boyabad (1527)
  • Eparkhos

    Part LVI: Boyabad (1527)

    The Trapezuntines would begin their march to destiny in February 1527. The ground was hard and frozen, and the air was bitterly cold and fierce, driven by winds of the Black Sea, and David couldn’t help but be reminded that marching under similar conditions had led to the death of Maurikios a millennium before. Still, he felt that it was a risk that must be taken; the bandons would need to be stood down for the spring planting soon, while the Rûmite levymen would return as well. His strength was great, Kadir’s was not, and he needed to strike now while he still had the advantage.

    The chief reason out of many why David chose to break winter camp before the coming of the spring thaw was sheer numbers. As previously mentioned, the bandons would have to be stood down before the spring planting, and further reinforcements would be unable to arrive until well after the passes had melted and/or the Black Sea had calmed, as additional men would need to be brought in by sea from the west or through the passes from the east. This would put him at a crucial disadvantage for two to three months, at the same time as Rûmite reinforcements would be streaming north, both from the reraised levies and from the dispersed forces across the Plateau that had been sent out the year before. If he did not move swiftly, then he would lose the advantage he had put so much effort into creating previously. There was also the issue of Boyabad itself; the fortress had managed to hold out against the Rûmites for six months despite dwindling supplies and constant bombardment, and its garrison had dwindled to only a few dozen sickly men, who would be unable to resist from the battered ruins of the fortress for a few weeks more, if that. His golden opportunity was here, a month ahead of his intended date but close enough that it was worth the risk. And, so, the aftokrator and his 15,000 men broke camp and marched upriver on 9 February 1527.

    Meanwhile, outside of Boyabad, Kadir continued his siege, the conflict by now having transformed into one of necessity if nothing else. The sultan had spent the last six months banging his heads against the fortress walls, pounding them with hundreds of pounds of stone and lead thrown by thousands of pounds of powder, and had nothing to show for it other than some pockmarked walls and several hundred men dead or crippled by failed assaults. If he gave up now and withdrew, he would’ve humiliated himself upon the world stage, something which he could ill afford, as well as given up a great opportunity for a crushing victory against a weak opponent and the spoils of such a conquest. By seizing the city, he would also accomplish his long-desired strategic aim of opening the road into Pontos. By this point, with his army weakened by the winter and dispersed across the breadth of Anatolia, he had secretly begun to despair of a crushing victory, but felt that it was absolutely necessary bar the intervention of God himself for the above mentioned reasons. He had also resolved to seize a city on the far side of the passes either on the field or on the negotiating table, so he didn’t have to go through this mess again. And so he remained in position throughout the winter, and when word came of the aftokrator’s approach he turned his force to meet David rather than fleeing as would have benefited his circumstances.

    By the time battle was joined, the Rûmite army was clearly inferior in most regards. They were outnumbered by a factor of a time and a half (1:1.5, ~10,000 against ~15,000) or thereabouts, and would be forced to keep up the siege against Boyabad while fighting the Trapezuntines. They had been forced to spend the winter in siege camps with a poor, if not completely terrible supply situation due to the devastation visited upon Inner Paphlagonia the year before. The Trapezuntines, on the other hand, had been able to keep fairly well supplied throughout the winter, as they had been integrated into Alexandros II’s pan-Pontic supply system[1]. In terms of discipline, the Rûmites held a slight advantage, as David had, after a period of great struggle, been able to integrate and coordinate his new, makeshift army, but it was still less than the nafjayş of Kadir’s host. Both armies had fairly high morale, driven by promises of plunder and the support of God on the Rûmite side and the desire to drive back the invaders and the support of God on the Trapezuntine side, but they wavered in some regards, namely the lack of faith in David in his army and the typical discontent of soldiers made to winter on campaign in Kadir’s. The only area where the Turks held a decisive advantage was in raw firepower, as Kadir was able to pull cannons, many of them truly massive siege guns, from their position to support his line, giving him some 58 guns to David’s 26, the latter being composed primarily of smaller, more maneuverable but less deadly cannons.

    The Trapezuntines advanced to a days’ march east of the city (four miles) on 26 February, camping on the left bank of the Amnias River. David feared that his men would be exhausted by the march and so slowed his advance despite knowing it would give the Rûmites time to redeploy to meet him. Kadir did just that, arranging the bulk of his forces along a ridge running between Boyabad and the river. Battalions of militia and nafjayş alternated down the line, the two southernmost units, standing where the ridge was lowest and where the main east road ran, were the heaviest armed and slightly overstrength in comparison to the others. 2,000 men were kept in reserve, one battalion to keep up the siege and another on a ridge running semi-parallel to the main ridge to the north as a reserve. Thirty-four of the Rûmite cannons were positioned along the main line, the rest remaining with the reserve or in the siege lines. The far northern edge of the line was secured by a mixed force of Zazas, Turkmen mercenaries and light infantry, the most mobile forces available to Kadir. The Rûmites waitied tensely that night, mostly confident but still rattled by their numerical inferiority and exhaustion from the long siege.

    Meanwhile, across the river, David was alternating between prayer and planning as scouts and infiltrators brought back reports of the Rûmite position. The atmosphere in the Trapezuntine camp was filled with more than the usual amount of nervousness. It was common knowledge that this battle could decide the fate of the war if things went badly enough, and the forces left behind to hold the pass would almost certainly be insufficient to hold off a determined assault. If they failed, would their homes and families be subject to the invaders? No-one could be certain one way or the other, and in some ways not knowing was worse than anything else. Then David emerged from his tent shortly before sunset , wild-eyed and manic. He ordered a cannon shot off to wake his sleeping men, then had every non-clerical, non-soldier follower escorted out of camp. Thousands of groggy and irritated soldiers then assembled in the center of camp, whence David gave a rambling and barely-coherent tirade that was equal parts rousing speech and brimstone sermon. Shockingly, it actually worked in rallying his men, and for the next several hours the camp was turned into a makeshift cathedral, as dozens of priests gave sacraments. As instructed by the voices in his head, David had every shield in the camp painted with the chi rho as another sign of victory before he and his men retired.

    David then woke his men once again the following morning, an hour before dawn. Eating and arming themselves quietly in the winter cold, they then took the field in the following manner; 3,000 soldiers, two-thirds of them footmen and the rest cavalry, on the right/northern flank, 4,000 infantry in loose formation in the center, backed by 2,000 tightly-organized heavy infantry as a reserve, and 4,000 heavy and/or veteran infantry on the left/southern flank. The bulk of the cannons were deployed on a ridge on the far bank of the river, but several more were dug in behind the center, a note taken from the Mongols at Ananuri. David was many things, among them fairly inexperienced and mentally unstable, but he wasn’t stupid. He recognized that Kadir planned to lure the bulk of the Trapezuntine force into attacking his understrength southern flank before slamming down into them with the army on the ridge, splitting the Trapezuntine host in twain. To counter this, David planned to bombard the Rûmite center before attacking with his own center, pinning them down and throwing his best men against the hopefully isolated Rûmite right, pushing them back or routing them as his own right smashed through their lighter counterparts and swung into the rear of the enemy center, hopefully inspiring an all-out rout.

    With all preparations made, David rode up to his main battery as the sun rose behind the Trapezuntine ranks. With a simple command of “Wake them with thunder.” the guns roared to life. The Battle of Boyabad had begun.

    The Rûmite soldier had camped in formation, and so this sudden bombardment inflicted far more damage than it had any right to, briefly throwing the ranks of the men along the ridge into confusion. Kadir, leading by example, had camped with a company of his mamluks in the center of the line, and so he was able to scramble into action and restore order in the center within half an hour of the bombardment beginning. Still, the Rûmites were fighting with a sizable handicap, having missed their breakfast due to the sudden attack and being forced to stand and rapidly organize in the bitter cold. They were also forced to squint into the rising sun to make out the advancing foe, all three of these together being quite demoralizing. Kadir and many of his men expected that he would have until the bombardment ended to fully reorganize, and so they were shocked to meet the Trapezuntine while the cannons still roared from across the valley.

    1,000 lightly-armed skirmishers formed the leading edge of the Trapezuntine center, racing forward as a broad wave of men, firing against them at distance with arrows before closing to fight with axes and swords. The Rûmites were caught off-guard, still trying to reposition themselves, and so the light infantry made almost absurd progress against them, cutting down men left and right with blows to the back and head, a rout before the battle had even begun! Then the skirmishers ran headlong into the nafjayş that Kadir had quietly posted behind the militia, the result approximating a watermelon hitting a brick wall at the speed of sound. The skirmishers were sent reeling and quickly fell back down the ridge, buying the Turks the time they needed to form up on the ridge--the advance of the standard bandons was delayed by the retreating skirmishers’ disordered withdrawal.

    Meanwhile, the Rûmites had managed to regain their footing, and the cannons on the ridge roared to life, thundering against their counterparts or down upon the advancing infantry. This further slowed down the advancing bandons, although they failed to have any great effect on the bulk of the men. Still, the Trapezuntines advanced, seemingly uncaring of their casualties despite the beating they were taking from the cannonade. David was among them, riding atop a white horse[2] in resplendent armor, encouraging his men to keep their advance and rallying them to the chi rho-defaced Pontic eagle that fluttered above the battalions. An hour after dawn, the main line made contact with their Rûmite counterpart. Blinded by the rising sun and already fairly tired by their alarm and the previous action, the Rûmites were unable to stand against the Trapezuntines, and foot after foot the Ponts began to push them back. The air was filled with the smell of death and blood, and supposedly so many corpses littered the ground that the soldiers fought atop and upon bloated bodies because of the lack of open ground. The Trapezuntine advantage soon began to wane, however, as Kadir himself and his guards appeared in the line opposite to David and exhorted his men to hold the line, joined by many ulema from the various camps. The line stabilized along the spine of the ridge, but the Rûmites failed to turn the tide. For the next three hours, the lines remained nearly static as men fought and died upon each other, unable to advance or retreat from the sheer weight of numbers there. Gradually, more Trapezuntine reinforcements advanced, as the commander of the reserve, Mikhael Stephanides, decided that his men were needed to turn the tide. As he had hoped, the Rûmites at last began to flag and started to be pushed back once again, but this advance was nearly a fatal mistake.

    Meanwhile, to the south, the Trapezuntine left was advancing against the Rûmite right. As previously mentioned, this Rûmite flank was the least concentrated, and because of this they appeared to number more than they actually did. The commander of the Trapezuntine left, an eleutheros named Iosephos Osolos, decided that the best response to this would be to try and intimidate the Rûmites in turn, and so ordered the four battalions beneath his command to advance at a dead walk, keeping them fresh and hopefully scaring the shit out of the Turks with the sight of a wall of 4,000 heavily-armed veterans advancing in dead silence. This slowed the Trapezuntine advance and opened them to bombardment from the ridge, but few of the Rûmite guns were in the right position to hit them, and those which did had little effect. An hour after the beginning of the attack, the two flanks made contact. About half of the Rûmites in this section were from the nafjayş, but even they were unable to stand against the monolithic advance of the Ponts. The militia who made up most of the flank fled at once, and the remaining Turkish forces were ground down in less than an hour. The eleutheroi and the heavy bandons were essentially unfatigued thanks to their early waking and slow advance, and so they were able to batter down Rûmite resistance with little effort. The road to Boyabad was scattered with corpses and the ground around it turned red from the sheer amount of corpses scattered across it. Osolos famously quipped that so many Rûmites had met the devil there that the worms spoke Turkish, and at the very least they did not speak Pontic. Osolos then ordered one battalion to advance toward Boyabad to cut off any enemy reinforcements while the other three swung up to flank the forces on the ridge. However, the eleutheroi hadn’t even completed this latter maneuver, nor had the flaming spires of Boyabad come into view, before a rider came from David’s position, frantically summoning Osolos back to the north to cut off an enemy flanking maneuver.

    On the northern side of the battle, things had gone disastrously wrong. Some 800 horsemen, 1500 light infantry and 700 fairly inexperienced bandons had been grouped together under the command of Alexios of Oph, instructed to advance against the Rûmite cavalry opposite them and encircle the ridge from behind. They had accomplished the first task admirably, smashing into the unprepared Zazas and Turkmen at the break of dawn and routing them in a few scant minutes, the former leaving a trail of corpses and riderless mounts as they fled down the valley to Boyabad. Oph, inexperienced in anything other than skirmishing with bandits on the Kartvelian frontier, ordered his men to give chase, and the Trapezuntine horsemen soon thundered off behind their counterparts, leaving the light and medium infantry strung out and exposed behind them. The merry chase had ended abruptly fifteen minutes later, as the Rûmite horsemen about faced and met the surprised Trapezuntines with bows and sabers. The Ponts slammed into them with little organization, and the two lines of horsemen began roiling back and forth across the plain. As the infantry approached, the cliffs to their north suddenly exploded into cannonfire, as the Rûmite reserves and their batteries entered the fight, followed by guns from the main ridge. Suddenly enfilated, the infantry advance slowed, then halted. Then the reserves themselves charged down from the heights, slamming into the side of the disorganized and confused formation and putting them to flight almost at once. A small number of Rûmites pursued them, continuing to whip out the Trapezuntines across the breadth of the plains, ensuring they couldn’t complete their mission or panic the main line of infantry by their presence. They then swung down into the rear of the Trapezuntine cavalry, encircling them and slaughtering them to the man in a few scant minutes. The Rûmite formations were soon joined by the battalion left to secure Boyabad, which had set fire to the gatehouse and hurled firebrands over the walls to keep the garrison distracted while they took the field. The Rûmite formation then turned and made up the valley in the inverse of the Pontic advance.

    They quickly advanced into the Amnias valley, swinging out into the broad lands around the river and charging down it towards the Trapezuntine force. Although they numbered only 2,500 strong if that, the sudden arrival of a force of any real size on the Trapezuntine flank had its typical demoralizing effects, and as they began to press in on their flank the Pontic right began to buckle. David darted back and forth across the breadth of his force, trying to shore up his faltering flank while keeping up the pressure on Kadir so he couldn’t make things any worse. The eleutheroi were slow in coming, and he feared, no, he knew that if they did not arrive in time then the battle would be lost. The Trapezuntine cannons had fallen silent, probably taken by the Turks, and he could feel the morale of his men sapping every second. Something needed to be done before it was too late, and the voices were telling him exactly what.

    Just as the battle seemed to be lost, David and twenty of his guards charged into the center of the Rûmite line, aiming for Kadir’s standard and the presence of the sultan himself. Mounted on heavy chargers, they managed to hack a swathe through the teeming lines of men, coming within a few scant feet of Kadir’s own guard unit. The sultan was ordered to flee by his chief mamluk, who rode to meet the attackers, but it was not Kadir that the Trapezuntines were aiming for. To the confusion of many, the eleutheroi instead attacked the sultan’s bannerman, hacking the poor bastard down and ripping down the sultan’s standard and fleeing back towards their lines. All but David and three of his guards would be killed, but the day had been won.

    The fall of the sultan’s banner led many to believe that the attack had succeeded in killing Kadir, and the Rûmites began to waver. This gave just enough time for Osolos and his men to arrive like the metaphorical cavalry[3] and drive back the flanking force, pushing them back up the hill and eventually around into the Rûmite rear, sparking the hoped-for retreat. The Rûmite army shattered and fled the field, most running south or west, away from both the Ponts and Boyabad. David and his army were exhausted, and so he ordered only a few bandons to pursue them, leaving the rest to collapse into rest. It wasn’t even noon yet.

    That afternoon, Boyabad was at long last relieved. The city was more of a morgue than a city by this point, heavily burned and scoured of anything edible by the surviving garrison of skeletal men, but it had served its purpose and held against all odds. David entered the city in a triumphal procession, and as the sun set that night the newly-created eagle with chi rho was raised above the city’s ramparts. Celebratory masses were held in the city’s cathedral, which was pockmarked by cannon balls and other projectiles. Total losses from Boyabad were quite staggering by Renaissance standards. The Trapezuntines had lost 4,500 out of the 14,000 men who had taken the field, as well as several of their cannons which had been spiked by the retreating Rûmites. Rûmite losses were even worse, having lost 6,000 of their 10,000 men that day, as well as all but three of their cannons spiked or captured. Without a doubt, the Trapezuntines had won the day.

    However, things were far from over. While the passes over into Pontos had been defended and the gateway city held, most of Inner Paphlagonia still languished under the Rûmite yoke and would need to be liberated. Trapezous itself was also teetering on insolvency thanks to the near-famine the previous year, and the bandons would need to be stood down soon to prevent things from spiralling out of control. The road to Kastamone and beyond would be long and arduous, and David was quietly unsure that he could do it within the next two years, if that. As such, he was willing to negotiate when Kadir sued for peace. The fears of domestic unrest which had caused the sultan to undertake this war in the first place would almost certainly take place now that his army had been shattered. Reinforcements were coming, sure, but they were needed for more important things. Kadir hoped to make peace now, before David became aware of these facts and he could thus negotiate with a strong hand. David was willing to tender negotiations, and after some back and forth an agreement was reached;

    Beypazar, Gerede and Nalisaray, which were untenable and already taken by the Rûmites, respectively, would be ceded to Konya. Their populations were composed mostly of Turks, and a wholesale massacre would be needed to bring them back to anything approaching loyalty, something which David believed God would frown upon. In exchange, Erzincan would pass under Trapezuntine rulership. As payment for Beypazar and Nalisaray (see below) Konya would give over several dozen pounds of gold and silver, as well as two thousand weights of grain. The Peace of Kastamone, as it would be known, shows a surprising regard for honor by the rulers of the opposed polities. Kadir had given promises of protection to the Nalisarayans and the Geredeans, which David would not force him to void, and vice versa with David and the Qizilbaş of Erzincan. After the peace, the terms were swiftly carried out, and by the end of April the borders had effectively changed.

    That summer, of course, Kadir’s woes would expand from domestic rebels to foreign foes….


    [1] I kind of neglected the last decade of Alexandros II’s reign, I’ll fix that if I ever do a redux.
    [2] David, ever the theologian, always rode a white horse on public occasions and/or battle, using it to tie himself to the conquering White Horseman of Revelations. Prior to the 19th Century, the White Horseman was considered to be symbolic of the spread of Christianity itself, not with the power of Antichrist as it is now.
    [3] The eleutheroi fought on foot. Even if they had wanted to mount, all of the horses were gone with Kaballarios’ raid, so it’s not like they could have.
    Appendix E: April 1527, Trapezous
  • Eparkhos

    Why the hell didn't anyone tell me that LIV was titled 'Opening Shits'?

    April 1527, Trapezous

    David sloshed the wine in his cup, staring out from the palace window. The vista was beautiful, the tree-covered hills of the surrounding valleys burnished light shades of orange and pink by the setting sun and almost seemed to glow with vibrant energy. On any other night, it would have been captivating, but David had more pressing issues in mind, namely, his marriage.

    He had returned from the front only yesterday, and had expected Ioncela to be….well, anything, really. Happy to see him, angry that he hadn’t bothered to visit her during his brief stopover in the capital, relieved that he had survived, disappointed that he had survived, lustful because of his long absence. Instead, he thought as he watched her knit, she had all the emotion of a hazelnut. She hadn’t even looked at him more than once or twice since he’d gotten back. A part of him was resentful, he was a busy man after all, and it had been difficult to clear his schedule for the several hours they had been sitting together. Wroth is a sin, he reminded himself, wroth is a sin. Still, it was strange that she hadn’t even spoken to him about affairs in the capital while she had been regent. That gave him an idea….

    “Ioncela,” he said, sliding forward in his chair. It had been years, and he still hadn’t come up with a pet name. Ionca? Iona? “I don’t suppose anything of import happened while I was gone, did it?”

    She paused, thinking for a second. Her skin seemed milky in the setting sun. “No.”

    “Anything, anything at all? Not even merchants having it out on the docks or a random arson?”

    Ioncela looked up from her knitting, then dropped her eyes once again. “No, not that I can remember. The details on everything that transpired should be in the report that Kantakouzenos will have for you tomorrow.”

    “Who’s Kantakouzenos?” David asked, words tumbling from his mouth before he could think.

    Ioncela blinked. “Oh, Kantakouzenos is my secretary. He was of immense help while you were gone, he probably deserves a promotion.”

    “Your secretary?”

    “Oh, yes. I couldn’t do everything by myself, you have quite the job. I believe he worked with your father.”

    She resumed knitting without changing posture or expression. David sat tense like a coiled spring, hand clenched around his cup. With careful, strained deliberacy he set it down and rose, walking deceptively calmly out of the room. The second the doors were shut behind him he began to pace across the antechamber like a trapped lion.

    I could have that bastard in one of the secret rooms under the palace in half an hour, he thought. I shouldn’t, of course, there’s no real grounds other than my suspicion, but I'd really, really like to. Besides, Kantakouzenos had it coming, he’d help enable some of the worst parts of my predecessor’s rampage, he’d even helped create the papiai. It’d be ironic, hoist with his own petard, as the Latins said. It was almost certain Ioncela had done something, even if she was a foreigner no one could spend three years in the palace without hearing of Kantakouzenos’ lechery and general blackguardness. She had taken him on as secretary, of all things! Secretary! I have every right to have them both arrested and tortured into giving up the scheme and then mounting their heads on pikes above the port gate!

    But you won’t. Mgeli commanded, his voice stern and cold. You won’t execute your wife on grounds of paranoid delusion. At least your father had the decency to wait until your mother tried to kill him.

    David sucked in a breath, ignoring Mgeli’s pointed reference to his predecessor. Him waiting was what caused his death. I’m no paranoid madman, and I can’t prove it, but I know they’re involved!

    What you’re going to do is send papiai to tail both of them to see if anything is happening between them, so that if they are involved you won’t turn the entire city against you.

    He sighed. Mgeli was right. He was dead certain that his wife was cheating on him, but if he moved without solid, tangible proof, then everyone in the capital and probably most of the Empire would conclude that he had gone insane like Alexios had and he’d be off the throne in weeks. He should wait to see if anything conclusive could be found before he acted.

    He resumed pacing, at a much slower speed, while he tried to calm himself with other thoughts. He’d taken to writing hymns in the praise of the Lord, various saints and angels in an attempt to ape his namesake, and forcing himself to recite the frankly awful poetry was generally good at taking his mind off things. After reciting a few dozen stanzas likening the tribulations of the faithful to the shearing of sheep in the summer, he felt calm enough to ease open the door and return to his seat. He stared at his wife for several minutes, scrutinizing every inch of her uninterested visage for signs of deceit.

    The outburst had brought him perilously close to an immensely sinful act, and he knew that he had to make things right with God again. It was only fair, after all, for him to repay the victory at Boyabad and the guiding voice that was Mgeli? It was high time he visited one of his orphanages, after all, he hadn’t seen any of them since he had left for Kartvelia two years before. He’d give alms, see to the ‘children of the aftokrator’ and pray for wisdom and support, then see what happened with Kantakouzenos and his wife. Of course, the papiai wouldn’t be letting either of them out of their sight for the next few….years, probably, but they would still be alive for the next while.

    Thank you, he thought, unsure of what else to say to the spirit in his mind.

    It’s my duty. Mgeli replied, his tone much softer.
    Part LVII: The Fall of the Golden Horde (1527-1530)
  • Eparkhos

    I'm not saying that this is the final version, nor am I saying that it's not. I'm just kind of uncertain about this, because I got a bit carried off into the thematic elements of the story and less focused on the realities, if you catch me drift.

    Part LVII: The Fall of the Golden Horde (1527-1530)

    1527 would be a momentous year for Europe and the Near East. Even as the dust of Boyabad settled in Anatolia, the Neo-Rûmite Sultanate turned to face a new invasion by the Qutlughids, while the Çandarids finally abandoned their holdings in Syria and made a leap of faith into Palestine and beyond. To the north, the last khan of the Golden Horde rode towards disaster against the newly-ascendant Kazimierz IV, while to the east Mamia stared down the Lord of Arishni in a second round of internal Kartvelian strife. In the eye of this hurricane sat Trapezous, playing a careful balancing act to recover from the devastation of previous years without getting sucked into the surrounding maelstrom. David waited, watching the events playing out around him and waiting for the time to strike….

    The utterly one-sided nature of the Mongol invasion of Kartvelia had gone to Nogai Ahmed Khan’s head with impressive speed. The sheer speed at which the Golden Horde had torn through the Caucasian petty states, crushing every army that stood in their way and forcing those who opposed them to run for the hills by itself would have been intoxicating to just about any commander. Add in the destruction of the Kartvelian army at Ananuri and the subsequent Red Autumn and all the loot in treasure and slaves that had brought Sarai, and it is entirely understandable (but still foolish) that the khan should decide that he was indomitable. Few of his lieutenants were willing to point out the difference between a fairly minor and isolated state with only one major ally and, say, Poland and Lithuania or the Uzbeks, and so Nogai Ahmed’s increasingly groundless ambitions went unchecked for the year and a half following the Sack of Tbilisi.

    Because of this insulated bubble, by the time the inevitable next conflict rolled around (they are a steppe horde, after all) Nogai Ahmed had a very inflated sense of the Golden Horde’s capabilities on the battlefield. In the summer of 1526, a succession crisis in the neighboring Uzbek khanate after the death of the old khan in battle against the Qutlughids spiralled out into a full-blown civil war. An opportunity to cripple what he considered to be enemy number one appeared to have fallen into Nogai Ahmed’s lap, and so as soon as word reached Sarai he called his tumens to arms and rode eastward with a force of some four tumens (80,000 men). Muhammed Ghazi Khan and Muhammed Rezim Khan, the two feuding brothers, did the last thing that Nogai Ahmed was expecting and put aside their differences to defend their mutual birthright from the Mongol invaders, rallying 75,000 men to them and riding to meet the khan. At the Battle of Qaraqol in August 1526, the two hordes met in the grasslands south-east of Aqtobe, fighting a pitched battle that would give the region its future name of ‘Plain of the Carrion Birds’. Muhammed Ghazi Khan was cut down by a stray arrow, but his brother fought on ferociously, heaving the Mongol line back across the plains and threatening to break the back of Nogai Ahmed’s army. But alas, it was a trap, and while the Uzbeks raged forward their batteries were left exposed and pounded into rubble by the Mongol artillery train[1], which then turned to enfilate them. Fearing the encirclement of his army, Rezim Khan ordered his army to fall back, abandoning the field to the Mongols but escaping with his army somewhat intact. All in all, 25,000 Mongols and 30,000 Uzbeks fell in battle, and for this heavy toll Nogai Ahmed gained everything north and west of the Aral Sea.

    This victory had little practical benefit for the Golden Horde--most of the land they had acquired was barren desert, useless even by steppe standards, and even those parts which were useful didn’t justify the loss of life that had been needed to gain them. However, Qaraqol and Ananuri, two crushing Mongol victories in a row, only further swelled Nogai Ahmed’s already sizable ego. A year later, in 1527, he would turn his sights to a new enemy; The Polish crown[2].

    After the death of Julius of Hungary campaigning against the Turks, Sigismund the Prussian had revived his distant claim to the Hungarian throne and crossed the Carpathians with a joint Polish-Lithuanian-Prussian army at his back, battering his way across the mountains and inadvertently crushing the backbone of opposition to his rule. After two more years of campaigning, Hunyadi loyalists had been crushed, Ladislaus (by now bynamed ‘the Austrian’) chased back across the border into the Empire and any further magnates crushed, securing Sigismund’s position atop the throne of Hungary. With his new realm secured, Sigismund then returned back to Krakow, by now the capital of a true empire, in the spring of 1525. In his absence, Ostrogiškis, the de facto viceroy of Lithuania, had authorized a probing expedition across the Dnieper to determine the strength of the Golden Horde in the region and whether or not an invasion to secure more lands from the savage hordes was possible. He had recalled them as soon as word of Ananuri reached Vilnius, but now it was too late. Nogai Ahmed intended to repay the insult several times over.

    In the spring of 1527, Nogai Ahmed once again called out his tumens and raised the horsetail banner westwards. In his infinite wisdom, the khan had not bothered to consider that his intention of attacking the Poles/Lithuanians had been plain as day since his victory the year before, and rode expecting to meet little organized resistance. Instead, Sigismund was warned the previous year by an Italian merchant, and had time to take the appropriate preparations. Hyginus was busy campaigning against a horde of militant Unitarians in the Venetial littoral, but took the time to promulgate a bull of crusade calling upon the nobles of Central Europe to stand with Sigismund and the king’s vassals to heed his call to arms. Most of the regional nobility were busy dealing with angry Protestants, angry peasants or both, but some 15,000 knights, sergeants and levymen were willing to take the cross and go to the defense of Lithuania. Sigismund raised an additional 35,000 from across his realm and 10,000 mercenaries from across the Balkans and beyond, many of them Kartvelians who had gone abroad after their homeland was consumed in fire and were eager for a rematch. Even the Livonian Order, who weren’t exactly friendly with Krakow after the fall of their Teutonic brothers, joined them, bringing some 8,000 heavy cavalrymen to Sigismund’s banner. The Polish were also weighted down with dozens of cannons (many of them Trapezuntine) that were hoped would help negate the sheer mass of firepower that Nogai Ahmed could bring with the guns from the Kartvelian campaign.

    As the Mongols approached the Dnieper, Nogai Ahmed’s scouts began reporting a sizable army mustered to meet him; he paid them no mind. As such, he was shocked to find nearly 70,000 foemen camped around Kiev as he approached the city. This was a massive (heh) problem to say the least. The Dnieper is an unusual river in that it is riddled with large lakes along its main course, which forces any host interested in crossing it to approach one of a dozen or so fords. Kiev sat atop one such ford, and as Nogai Ahmed’s scouts soon reported, the only other ford within a week’s ride, Kaniv, was also held by a large force, this one of Cossacks. If Nogai Ahmed attempted to force the crossing, he would be utterly slaughtered; if he attempted to retreat, well, he would be humiliated for all the world to see and quite possibly have his rearguard smashed. He decided his best option was to wait on his side of the ford while his cannons blasted away at the enemy camp and hope they retreated, giving him the opportunity he needed to break through and rout them. And so, the Great Standoff at Kiev began.

    For forty days and forty nights, guns rang out across the Dnieper. The river separated the armies in a way no other stream could, pinning them together at the ford but making direct assault across the swift-flowing current impossible. Sigismund returned fire against the Mongols with much the same hopes that Nogai Ahmed had, namely that the enemy would retreat and give him the opportunity he needed to defeat them openly. So the two batteries of cannon exchanged fire across the river for day after day until, at last, the Mongol guns fell silent from a lack of powder. This in and of itself wasn’t especially disastrous--after all, Nogai Ahmed just had to wait for more powder to be brought to his force--but what was disastrous was that Sigismund briefly held a monopoly on firepower, something which he would put to good use.

    On the night of 17 July, after a day of inactivity, the Polish-Crusader cannonade roared to life in a single deafening incident, hurling hundreds of pounds of cannonballs and mixed shot into the unexpecting Mongol camp--Nogai Ahmed had pulled back out of cannon range, and Sigismund had managed to convince his scouts that his cannons weren’t being moved forward. While the riders of the Golden Horde flew about their camp in a panic, trying to find their horses and/or figure out what the hell was going on, three dozen small boats, rafts really, pushed off from the eastern bank of the Dnieper and made for the far bank with all haste. Aboard them were a hundred and fifty Livonian sword-brothers, all of whom had specifically volunteered for this mission. As Nogai Ahmed struggled to regain control of his army and his camp, the Livonians began setting fire to the tents and piles of feed, killing horses and butchering the poorly-armed Mongols as they tried to reach their mounts and form up. Then, like the pagans who they trained to fight, they disappeared into the night like spirits, racing back to their boats and escaping across the Dnieper with few losses. When Nogai Ahmed was informed of this he was furious and ordered an all-out charge across the rapids against the Catholics, which ended with some of his best men charging into a wall of pikes or being cut down by arquebuses and crossbows as they struggled to ford the fast-flowing river.

    The khan hastily ordered an end to the assault, but the damage from the skirmish and the fires was already done; 1500 Mongols were dead or severely wounded, he was out of powder, out of feed for his horses and short on just about everything needed to successfully run a campaign. Even worse, a rider arrived that same day reporting that Tsar Aleksandr--who had by now unified most of the Russian statelets and had battered down Veliky Novgorod to the walls of the capital itself--had decided that the Mongols’ preoccupation with the Poles was the excellent time to strike at their under defended border around Kazan. A very large, very experienced[3] Russian army was now marching towards the heartland of the Golden Horde, and there was nothing in their way to stop them. Confronted with these difficult realities, Nogai Ahmed Khan decided his best option was to retreat.

    After weeks of inaction, the khan attempted to make an organized and steady retreat from the Catholics, but ultimately failed to do so. Even as the bulk of his horde rode off at great speed to escape any pursuers, the rearguard--some 5,000 men--were surrounded, cut off and massacred by the much heavier knights, who found it much easier to deal with horse archers when they had to stay put. The Mongol siege train--much of it formerly Kartvelian or Uzbek--was captured almost intact, with only a few carted off or spiked. The sight of Sigismund parading down an avenue of captured cannons was an electrifying one, and soon word would be spread across the known world; the Golden Horde wasn’t the immortal army so many thought them to be.

    At once, the walls began to crumble and fall. The first to go was Kartvelia, where Mamia Dadiani redoubled his counter-offensive against the Lord of Arishni, no longer having to fear Mongol reprisal for an overly vigorous defense. Indeed, the Lord of Arishni’s armies began to collapse from deserters, as his subordinates decided to get out while they still could. However, the lynchpin in Nogai Ahmed’s empire wouldn’t come out until late that year, when he met the army of Aleksandr on the fields west of the Volga, across from Kazan. Despite outnumbering the Russians by 2:1, the superior discipline, regular and accurate fire and stiff defenses of the Novgorodians allowed the tsar to carry the day, and the Mongols retreated with a full tumen dead or crippled to only 7,000 Russians. \

    Just as much as the Great Standoff, the Battle of Kazan kick-started the fall of the Golden Horde. As word spread over the winter of 1527-1528, Sarai’s power began to completely waver, as subject peoples began to break off, varying form quietly stopping their tribute payments to torturing Mongol governors to death in the capital square and daring Nogai Ahmed to do something about it. The khan’s attention was torn in all directions at once, and there was little he could do to resist attacks on all fronts. To the north, Aleksandr’s army continued to steamroll south into formerly Russian territory, while to the west Sigismund and the crusaders advanced into the Pontic Steppe, visiting a foretaste of hell on the slavers who had so long menaced them. Of course, all of this was but a pale shadow of the absolute horde coming out of the east and gunning for Sarai itself. The Oirats were pressing eastwards in search of new lands and to escape the pressures of the expanding Ming, while Rezim Khan and the Uzbeks were now coming back for revenge. That year, many of the men who had fled up into the high mountains of the Caucasus came back down, waging a quiet war against the Mongol occupiers and their puppets. As the Poles camped beside the Sea of Azov that winter, Ma’aru the Vainakh led an army out from Borostan and into the formerly Vainakh hills to the north. His army swiftly recaptured most of his lost territory, and every Mongol that could be taken alive was rounded up in the ruins of Nasare and put to the sword. Dozens of other statelets across the region followed his lead, and by 1529 the Mongols and their allies had been killed or driven out of Ciscaucasia en masse. Unsurprisingly, Kartvelia followed the next spring, with Mamia Dadiani finally crushing the Lord of Arishni’s remaining forces and capturing the ruin that was formerly known as Tbilisi.

    The most important impact of the Horde’s death spiral, from the Pontic perspective at least, came in Crimea. A half-tumen had been left behind in the peninsula under one Djoga the Grey to keep up the siege of Alexandria, which by the time of the Great Standoff and Kazan had been ongoing for more than two years. When word came of Nogai Ahmed’s defeat, Djoga did some quick calculations, determined that the future that awaited him if he went over to the Poles was at best a quick death, and decided to try and cut a deal with David. While the aftokrator was busy dealing with the fighting in Anatolia by the time the boat reached Trapezous in the spring of 1528, once word got to him he gladly opened negotiations with Djoga. After some time they came to the following agreement; Djoga and his host would lift their siege of Alexandria, free all slaves taken during the siege and give restitution to all those whose lands they had pillaged. They would then rule the rest of Crimea as a Trapezuntine vassal and under official Pontic protection, and eventually convert to Orthodox Christianity at a future date. The agreement was carried out, and all of the peninsula was at least nominally gained for the Megalokomnenoi. The Mongols of Crimea would be one of the few pockets of Mongols to survive the coming steppe wars.

    The death throes of the Golden Horde came to an abrupt end on 16 December 1530. An Uzbek army had swept aside the last remnant of the once-proud army of the khan and attacked Saray itself. Nogai Ahmed was in his capital when the city fell…

    December 1530, 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 reins, but the sight of his burning capital held him transfixed. It was strangely familiar, in a way he couldn’t place but which he was sure he had seen before.

    He pulled his rein 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, the great capital of all the steppe, the city which he was bound to protect and defend, 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. Memories of past pillaging expeditions flashed through his mind, and for a second he thought he remembered where he had seen it.

    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.

    And then he realized.

    [1] The Mongols weren’t exactly known for their gunmaking prowess, and it should be no surprise that they were either purchased from various neighboring states or captured on raids, mostly from the Poles, Russians or Kartvelians.
    [2] This is a term for all the lands held under the Jagiellon crown at this time.
    [3] Aleksandr had led the hardened core of his army, a chosen force of 7,000, through some 25 years of warfare against various Russian opponents, Ugro-Finnic tribes and Mongol raiders, making them a potent force by experience alone. Aleksandr had also drilled these men in cutting edge tactics and drills capable of fighting off an equal number of soldiers from any nation across the known world. Without a doubt, the Russian Legion was a true professional army.
    Appendix F: June 1531, Somewhere in the Uzbek Khanate
  • Eparkhos

    Appendix F:
    June 1531, Somewhere in the Uzbek Khanate

    Alexios Skaramagos slammed his shovel into the pile of camel shit, wishing to high heaven it was the face of Nuruddin. He scooped up the steaming waste and dumped it onto a rough-cut board, pounding away to try and flatten it into something resembling a flat circle. Once this was done, he slid his shovel under it and dumped the disks into a wicker basket nearby, then turned back to the pile of dung. He raised his shovel, picturing the face of Nogai Ahmed Khan in the patterns of the black-brown heap and smashed it in again. A moment later, he hefted it again and glowered down at the remaining pile, mentally forming the face of that son of ten thousand dogs, Ioannes, who had gotten him into this damn mess. He brought it down with all his might, grimly enjoying watching the shit fly in all directions.

    As he worked, attention dulled by the routine monotony of it, he thought back to the long and sorry chain of events that had landed him here. As much as he hated to admit it, part of it was his own damn fault. In hindsight, taking the job from Ioannes and his associate in the first place was utter foolishness. There was no way in hell that they would have had multiple employers, and given his previous refusal they were probably just trying to get rid of him. Trying to kill the khan of the Golden Horde at a mosque during Friday prayers was also damned foolish, something he never should have tried. The perch, a tiny windowsill in the closet of an adjoining complex several hundred paces from the mosque, had been perfect, too perfect, and he should’ve expected betrayal. Should’ve, should’ve, should’ve…

    He sighed, resting the shovel in the pile and leaning against it. He wished none of it had ever happened, but if wishes were horses he could outride any man on the steppe. The truth was the important thing, and the truth had been ugly. He reflexively ran his tongue over the stumps of his front teeth, recoiling at the sharp pain. Nogai Ahmed Khan had been ‘generous’ enough to not kill him, instead dumping him in a cell in the bowels of New Saray to be experimented upon by his various goons and torturers. It had been a hellish three years, and thank God he had blocked out most of it, but he had managed to get through it. He had lived, albeit heavily scarred physically and mentally, but he had lived. He would have his revenge, by God and the devil.

    The horizon stretched out before him in all directions, as vast as the empty sky. Not for the first time, he mulled over making a run for it. It would be suicide on foot, of course, but there was a small cluster of horses on the other side of the yurt complex he was shoveling behind. He could make it to them, he knew, but he wasn’t sure how far he could make it after that. Most of the Uzbeks would be gone by now, out herding, but just one or two could kill him or worse. He should wait until he was sure he could escape. Then again, he could wait forever before it happened, and he didn’t have very many years left in him….

    “Franj! You lazy bastard, get back to work!”

    He repressed a sigh, furtively glancing over his shoulder. The voice belonged to Nuruddin, the Uzbek warrior who’d ‘rescued’ him from the prison of New Saray and immediately imprisoned him with his clan. The dashed hope of escape and relief was more cruel than the torture had ever been.

    Nuruddin waddled towards him, cursing loudly but stumbling over every other word. He was drunk, evidently, unusual for the middle of the day. Nuruddin was also the herdsman posted closer to the yurts on warm days such as this one, a fact which Skaramagos had gleaned through weeks of methodical observation. An idea occurred to him.

    He gave a rasping, slurred cry that was intended to be a mixture of Latin, Greek and Arabic. None of it would make sense, he knew, even if Nuruddin spoke anything other than feeble Mongol. He’d never been too good with two of those languages, and it was rather difficult to speak with only half of a tongue.

    “What did you say to me? Are you mouthing off?! You’re in for it now, shithead, I’ll kill you.....”

    Skaramagos listened to his ongoing rant as the drunken man advanced, ignoring the increasingly impractical threats and instead counting the footfalls. It was a practice he’d picked up decades before, great for tracking the movement of targets in the darkness and picking them off even at impossible distances. He’d watched Nuruddin for days and knew exactly how long his stride was, and was fairly sure he had the distance down correctly. Every step towards him was another one closer to vengeance against this bastard, and he wouldn’t miss this chance. He remained rigid in place, hands clenched around the shaft of the shovel.

    Six. “Piece of shit, not even worth the food….”

    Five. “Should’ve left you to the dogs!”

    Four. “How’d you like that, huh? They’d rip the rest of your face off, it’d be an improvement!”

    Three. Nuruddin paused and took a hacking breath, worked up so much he had lost his breath.

    Two. “Argh! Damnit, damn you, damn your seventh grandfather…”

    “Damn you, Franj, can’t you fu--”

    With a shrieking, mangled cry Skaramagos leapt upwards, wrenching the shovel from the pile of shit and hurtling it towards him with every ounce of strength in his body. Nuruddin gave a startled, strangled yelp before the blade of the shovel bit into his mouth, sending a spray of blood, bones and teeth flying. He stumbled backwards, a look of pure shock on his face as he reflexively lifted his arm to try and block the blow but Skaramagos had already pulled the shovel loose. He swung it back up, every memory of beatings and slights flashing through his mind as he raised it over his head. He hammered it down again, slamming it into Nuruddin’s temple with the sound of shattering bone. The Uzbek fell to the ground, limp, but Skaramagos kept going, swinging the shovel again and again until the man’s face was a bloody pulp detached from the rest of his body.

    Chest heaving, Skaramagos turned and strode away, carrying his shovel like a mace. It had been far too long since he’d killed someone, and the old thrill of death coursed through his veins and gave him new energy. The cold checklist that’d raced through his mind earlier returned to him and he went into action like a well-oiled machine. He needed to get a horse and he needed cover to get away, both of which were fairly easy given his present circumstances.

    He turned and trotted towards one of the yurts. The tent flap was little obstacle and he tore it open, revealing a collection of shocked elderly women clustered around a dish containing banked coals. He darted across the room and snatched up the dish, stiff-arming aside one of the women and carrying it barehanded in his left hand. Any feeling in that hand had been taken by the Mongol torturers, and so he casually picked out sparking coals and hurled them at the yurts as he made for the horses. The thickly woolen tents caught fire almost at once, spreading rapidly with a chorus of startled shouts and flurries of desperate movement. In the chaos of bodies spilling out of the flaming structures, he went completely unnoticed. By the time he had reached the small group of horses outside one of the outlying tents the entire area was in anarchy.

    He grabbed the strongest looking of the horses by the mane and swung up onto its back. He’d never been a strong rider, but he could ride bareback if his life depended on it, which it probably did. Once he had righted himself, he reached over and slapped the flanks of the other horses, or chucking embers at their fleshy bits. It had the desired effect and within minutes they had scattered across the plains at full gallop. His own mount stirred restlessly, but he firmly calmed her and pointed her towards the west. From his quiet watching, he knew that most visitors came from the east, and so figured the opposite direction was the best way to go. He kicked her sharply and they were off, galloping across the steppe towards freedom.

    He would have his revenge, or he would die trying.
    Appendix G: February 1527, Boyabad
  • Eparkhos

    February 1527, Boyabad

    The inside of the tent was noticeably warmer than the outside, the source of the heat a vast brazier that sat dead in its middle. It was the only light in the room, and its flickering shadows cast the entire chamber in an eerie, solemn haze.

    David barely saw any of this. His attention was held by the two figures who stood, or maybe sat, opposite him. In the bare light of the room he could barely make them out, and instinctively he slid his hand to his scabbard, simultaneously taking a few hesitant steps forward. The taller figure he now recognized to be standing, probably a guard or an advisor or something. The second was a strange, bowed figure that sat cross-legged on a dais. His head was far too large for his body, which was remarkably thin despite its lower half being hidden by loose robes. Even at a distance the man’s features were bizarrely neotenous, resembling a newborn more than they did those of a man.

    A wave of nervousness rushed over David, another whitecap on the roiling sea of fear within him. Mgeli had been mute since earlier that day, and so he was on his own for the negotiations. He squeezed his hands and uttered a silent prayer for help, knowing that he had to choose every word with deadly accuracy. Thank God, he had a strong position that would let him play up his hand. The best thing for him to do, he had decided, was to act confident to demand concessions and hope that they didn’t see through his ruse.

    He swallowed, forcing a smirk and a tone of casual superiority.

    “So, you are the sultan? I didn’t think the Turks would give the throne to a beardless man.”

    “Nor I the Lazes.”

    Kadir’s voice was strange, a disconcerting mixture of a child and a normal man, and quite unsettling. Another bout of nervousness came over him, and he dropped his guard for a second, taking the bait.

    “I am a Roman!” he bristled.

    “As am I.”

    “No you aren’t.” David snapped. He knew he shouldn’t be losing his temper already, but he’d be damned if he let some Turks usurp his nation’s history. “You may claim to be a Roman, but Rome is Christian and Rome is Greek. You can style yourself as a Roman, but you are not one and never will be. Wrapping a whore in purple robes does not make her an empress.”

    “You speak of your mother very kindly.”

    David grimaced. He’d walked right into that. He started to snap back but cut himself off. The eunuch was trying to bait him into losing his head so he could be manipulated. It was clever, he had to admit, and he’d nearly fallen for it. Time to turn the sultan’s plan on its head.

    “I speak not of any one individual but of history itself. Rome has stood for two thousand years and will last for two thousand more. The poorest of our ancestors lived in marble houses while the richest of yours were vagrants living in tents on the steppe.”

    The eunuch’s expression was completely placid, while the vizier shifted his weight in a way David found hard to read.

    “Ah, but those cities of marble have crumbled into dust, while we have built stronger and harder cities that will stand the test of time. We may have come here as nomads but we are as civilized as you have ever been. As Diogenes or Andronikos Gidos could tell you, we have won the mantle by right of conquest.”

    David glowered at him. It was an insult that he hated to let go unpunished, but it was clear he would get nowhere with this wall of stone. He needed to end this side conversation before it spun out and he lost all control of the situation. Alright David, steer things back to the negotiation, it shouldn’t be that hard.

    “If conquest is a true claim then I am the king of Kartvelia. Enough of this talk, there are more important matters at hand.”

    Kadir nodded swiftly, his expression still inescrutable. “I concur. I am willing to allow you to retain your throne if you surrender and pledge fealty to me at once.”

    David stammered out a response, all thoughts of dominating the conversation flying out of his head.

    “What?! I-- Surrender? Surrender?!”

    “Yes, surrender. At once.”

    He regained his composure. Clearly, Kadir was trying to throw him off balance and evidently he had succeeded. Still, there was no way he was serious, and he could still keep the advantage if he acted quickly and confidently.

    “You-- I don’t appreciate your attempted joke.”

    “I do no not joke.”

    Now this was just insulting. He had admittedly lost control, but he wouldn’t let this stoneless bastard talk down to him like this, not after he had defeated him in the field. It was strange, but he was more nervous now than he had been in the thick of things that afternoon. Now’s not the time for that, focus!

    “Then you must have truly lost your mind. If you have an ounce of sense in you, which frankly I doubt, then you would see that I have won the day. My men have driven yours from the field and slaughtered them wholesale, and you should be thankful I haven’t crushed you outright. My patience wears thin, and if you are overly reticent then you may find a draft blowing across your stump of a neck.”

    The sultan was silent for a time, and David wondered if he had overplayed his hand. At last he spoke, in a low voice so quiet he strained to hear it. “You may have won the day, but you have not won the war.”

    “Easy for you--”

    He was cut off by the eunuch’s sudden rebuttal, surprisingly firm and only a hair beneath a shout. Nonetheless, his face remained perfectly blank. David instinctively snarled, biting back another cutoff in the name of diplomacy.

    “Silence, you insolent whelp. You may have carried the day but you cannot win the war. Already, your army is weakened from just this battle and you cannot raise more men. All of Pontos is already at the brink of famine and anarchy, and you haven’t even faced defeat yet. Tell me, what do you think will happen when your army is scattered? You have only it and can muster out no more men, while I can raise a half-dozen hosts of equal size if need be. I have every advantage, and you will acknowledge this or be destroyed.”

    His temper finally snapped.

    “Oh, on the contrary!” David snapped. “I am the one who holds the cards, you’re merely bluffing! You couldn’t raise another army if the devil himself invaded to drag you to hell! I know your people, sultan. The only reason why they obey you is because they fear you, and now that you have been defeated they will turn against you with great haste. One of your brothers still lives, as does a dozen of your uncles and cousins, not to mention all your brothers and cousins by law. How many of them envy you? How many are willing to take up arms to sate that envy? A great number, I suppose. Your government is top-heavy, and many of the regional governors will be willing to raise the standard of one of your relatives for greater autonomy. The nafjayş are greatly weakened, and without them you are dependent on what little goodwill the beys and satraps have for you. How many defeats will it take for them to abandon you? One? Two? Five? This battle may not have ended you, but the next certainly will.”

    They stared at each other in grim silence. David’s palms were wetter than the Black Sea, but the thought of giving his enemy the pleasure of making him look away was as repulsive as rotting eggs. He knew everything he’d just said was right, but as his temper slackened he began to wonder if they had been the right thing to say. Perhaps he had driven Kadir away from the negotiation table on accident? He said another quick prayer before the sultan spoke again.

    “You are not correct. My subjects may be restive, but unlike you perfidious Greeks they are not held in thrall by fear, but have some loyalty to me. Even if they do all revolt at once, I shall still have enough men to march against you and crush you. Pontos and Paphlagonia are too weak to prevail, and you must surely either submit or be destroyed.”

    “Bold words, but you are bluffing. Already, the Qizilbaş have come over to my side, and doubtless others will soon follow them. Even if you manage to defeat me, there is a legion of enemies waiting to take my place and march against R-- Konya. The Ottomans will surely support a pretender, as will the Çandarids or the Qutlughids. Your armies will be exhausted at best and will defect to your rivals’ causes at worst, and you will eventually be overwhelmed and dethroned. It is you who must make peace or be destroyed.”

    Kadir grunted, his expression unchanging. He needed to switch tack, evidently this wasn’t working.

    “Lies. The Ottomans are busy in the west with the Franks and such, the Qutlughids are busy in India and Bukhara and the Turkmen are occupied in Egypt. You seek to bluff me into abandoning victory with threats of foreign powers who you hold no control over.”

    “I speak the truth, and you know it…” For the first time, Kadir seemed to be slightly uneasy. It had to be the threat of foreign invasion, and almost certainly the Qutlughids were the worst potential threat. They could crush the Turks like a bug. He could use that. “I find it amusing that you believe I have no sway with other kings. Do you suppose Arslan is happy to see one of his vassals needlessly attacked? He is old but he is no fool, he knows that fear is needed to keep his empire together. Doubtless he’s already stirred himself from Tabriz and marches against you as we speak.” K gets progressively more nervous. “This may be your only chance to forestall his fury, sultan. If you agree to peace, I’ll intervene on your behalf and turn him from the destruction of your realm. You’ll either lose a city or two or your throne.”

    Then David did what was probably the most foolish thing possible at that moment. He turned on his heel and strode out, forcing a confident bearing and stride even as his gut screamed at him that he was making a terrible mistake. It was an idea he’d gleaned from his study of some forgotten emperor’s dealings with the Persians, and he prayed with every fiber of his being that it worked. He barged out of the tent and to the group of startled-looking eleutheroi who are clustered around their horses in the yard (?), ignoring their remarks and making directly for his horse. He had one foot in the saddle and was starting to pull himself up when a cry came from behind him.


    He turned and saw a courier or page or what have you practically scraping the ground. “The sultan wishes to speak with you at once, sire.”

    He nodded again and reversed his course, utterly shocked at having pulled it off. Kadir sat in his previous position, seemingly unchanged. David hoped he wasn’t.

    “The situation is not entirely to my advantage, and peace seems to be in our mutual interest.”

    “Good, I’m glad you’ve seen reason. I presume your demand for submission is void?”

    Kadir nodded curtly.

    “Indeed. A peace with honor would be a boon to us both. I am a man of honor, and I assume that you are as well,” he said, emphasizing every word of the latter sentence. “I shall not force you to revoke your pledge of protection over the Qizilbaş and Erzincan.”

    “Very well, I won’t force you to do the same over Gerede and the other such cities in the west. In fact, I believe that once again we may both benefit from a city-swapping arrangement. Those cities which have risen against us, respectively, would become festering cesspools of revolt and disunity that may sink either one of our realms, and it would be good for us to have rid of them. Erzincan for Nallisaray, Beypazar and Gerede.”

    The trade was obviously unequal, but he didn’t expect Kadir to say anything. Never look a gift horse in the mouth, after all, but any halfway decent negotiator would have seen the implied leverage in the statement.

    “Erzurum could be a boon.” Kadir said dryly, probably trying to hide confusion or excitement. It was an obvious trap, meant to put him at odds with Qutlughid desires for territory, and it was not a trap he would fall for.

    “I have no need for more distant cities. However, I do desire a number of fortresses...” He proceeded to list them, rattling off a list of strategic hardpoints and passes that he had memorized earlier that day. “And, of course, I have need of several thousand weights of grain and a given amount of precious metals as compensation for the lost territories.”

    “That is fair. Shall I send for scribes to draft the treaty proper?”


    The vizier departed Kadir’s shoulder and slipped from the tent with a rustle of fabric. He needed him gone if this was to have any chance of working. He wanted Kadir to be as malleable as possible.

    “Just one more thing. I want to be declared the protector of all Christians--no, protector of the Orthodox Church inside your realm.”

    Kadir fixed him with a hard, scrutinizing look that seemed to pick apart every hair on his face. For a few brief seconds David wondered if he had overplayed his hand, and his stomach roiled like the sea in a winter storm.

    The sultan produced a small scrap of parchment and etched something out on it, writing quickly and with a practiced hand despite the fact he was doing so in Greek. He folded the paper up and marked it with his seal, then lightly tossed it to David.

    “That is acceptable, if you agree to that.” His eyes flickered with emotion as David started to open it. “Not here, for God’s sake! Wait. You have ways of contacting me.”

    David nodded curtly, slipping the packet into his pocket.

    The scribes and the vizier arrived a few minutes later, and they spent the next few hours drawing up the agreement, haggling back and forth over the minor details such as the weight of minor units and the naming of certain places. Nonetheless, it was concluded and signed by sunrise that night, written in both Greek and Persian to ensure fair dealing. David departed with a curt nod, gathering his men around him and riding back to his camp.

    It was there, by the flickering light of the lamp, that he finally opened the note. With slack jaw and gaping mouth he hastily read and reread it, unsure if it was some sort of bizarre joke or not.

    MGELI! He snapped. MGELI!
    Part LVIII: All or Nothing (1527-1530)
  • Eparkhos

    This one was also written a while ago and may be subject to rewriting

    Part LVIII: All or Nothing (1527-1530)

    As the Golden Horde collapsed on the far side of the Black Sea, the Sultanate of Rûm appeared to be on the verge of doing the same. Surrounded on all sides by hostile powers, armies swarmed over the battered sultanate’s frontiers, Konya itself seeming to be the preeminent target. No allies and no succor seemed possible, and the armies of the Turkish sultanate were already exhausted and weakened. It would take a miracle for Kadir to reverse the situation, but miracles weren’t unheard of in Rûmite history….

    Arslan II had long wished to deal a killing blow to the Rûmites. In a one-on-one fight, he and his empire would certainly prevail against the significantly weaker state, but Kayqubad and his successors’ ability to keep just out of reach and strike only when the Qutlughids were distracted with other affairs and couldn’t respond in force. Such had been the case when Malatya had fallen to the Turks, and when they had raided the Çandarids who were, as he intended to remind them, were Qutlughid vassals. But now that he had his affairs in order and the Uzbeks were busy dealing with the Golden Horde, the time to strike was at hand. The old shah could feel his age, and wished to rain hell down upon the insolent Rûmites and repay them for their constant provocations if it was the last thing he did. The ascension of Kadir who was, by all reports, an inexperienced (if quite unnerving in person) ruler, provided a golden opportunity, and Arslan began gathering his armies. Better yet news arrived the next year with reports of the Rûmite invasion of the Trapezuntine Empire, effectively serving a perfect casus belli to Tabriz on a silver platter. In the spring of 1517, an official declaration of war was sent to Konya. Two Qutlughid vassals had been attacked, and it was time to launch a war of righteous fury.

    From the beginning of his reign, Kadir had suspected that a conflict with the Qutlughids would eventually occur. This fear had helped motivate his attack against the Trapezuntines--after all, they were technically Qutlughid vassals, and it was entirely possible that their presence on his flank could disastrously derail a defensive war. His plan was to cripple the Trapezuntines’ war-making abilities, then turn to meet the Qutlughids and force them to fight through the mountains, hopefully gaining enough breathing room to turn his gaze southward and push into the void left by the Çandarid’s departure from Syria. However, he had not considered that Arslan himself would intervene, believing that the great sultan--who was by 1527 more than seventy-six years old--wouldn’t rouse himself from what Kadir believed to be an aged stupor, let alone take the field himself. As such, he left behind only some 400 nafjayş to guard the Cilician Gates, on the understanding that they could muster out militiamen to supplement their numbers in the event of a strike from that direction. Unfortunately for the Rûmites, he was mistaken on all three counts. The mobilizations of the previous year and the subsequent strain it placed on the Cilician harvests necessitated that the regional militia stand down and keep farming to avoid starvation. Arslan, meanwhile, was more than willing to take the field in person, inspiring the great hordes of men that could be raised from the breadth of the Qutlughid realm and forcing him to face one of the greatest living generals of the period. Finally, it was only by quickly suing for peace after Boyabad that Kadir was able to turn and meet the Qutlughids, leaving a barely defeated and only slightly weakened but now very, very pissed-off Trapezous on his flank.

    The Qutlughid Empire stretched from the Euphrates in the west to the Hindu Kush in the east and even a string of distant ports in India and Arabia[1], and it could field armies respectively of its vast size. Even with forces needing to be left behind to ward off the Uzbeks, Golden Horde and the Rajputs[2], Arslan mustered 90,000 men for his invasion of the Rûmite Sultanate, many of them veterans of his many campaigns in the Caucasus and the east. The first army, to be commanded by his general Sharif al-Din Ali Shirazi would number 35,000, 15,000 of which was cavalry, and would attack the Rûmites from the east head-on, while the second army would be commanded by the shah himself, numbering some 40,000 (10,000 of which were cavalry) which would finish off the Çandarid rump state in Aleppo and continue north into Cilicia and hopefully Konya itself. A reserve of 15,000 men would hang back in the vassal territory of Bitlis to intercept any attempts to invade Mesopotamia or attack Tabriz. Arslan’s hope was that Kadir would rush into battle against Shirazi, pinning down his army there while the shah marched on his capital. Even if he did not, the Qutlughid pincer would be sure to utterly crush the Rûmites, forcing them to fight on two fronts against superior forces. Before beginning his invasion, he also sent a missive to David, informing him that he ought to join him in his assault and avenge the losses of the previous years’ combat. On 16 June 1527, Shirazi’s host approached Erzurum, marking the effective beginning of the invasion.

    Kadir, meanwhile, was facing down the opposite problem; a severe shortage of just about everything. The Sultanate of Rûm sat upon a region with a limited amount of fertile soil, and as such its population--and hence its manpower pool--were quite limited. Kayqubad had tried to make up for this fact by keeping a standing army, but it too took time to be replenished after losses in war, and time was something that Kadir didn’t have. He had had some 35,000 men under arms at this time a year before, a number which had been whittled down to only 25,000 mostly at the expense of his most experienced units. If he attempted to raise more men, he would risk a famine and obtain only poor quality units unsuited for anything other than throwing themselves on Qutlughid spears. Still, that might be better than the current state of affairs, by which he was severely outnumbered by both of the invading armies. He put out a desperate call for mercenaries, but was able to muster only a few thousand exiled Kartvelians and Arabs, experienced but not especially competent, and a handful of Venetian crossbowmen from Cyprus, neither of which were tide-turners. He wrote to Ömer Paşa, who had succeeded his father Ebülhayr as the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, begging for help against the eastern horde, only for his emissaries to be laughed out of the Sublime Porte. Ömer Paşa was having enough trouble dealing with the Albanians and the White Army, he had nothing to spare for the Rûmites and wouldn’t give them succor if he could. The Golden Horde wasn’t in any position to help, while the Mamluk rump state was barely clinging to life and the Çandarids still hated them with a passion. Konya was out in the cold, Kadir must have known as he marched to meet the invaders, and there was little he could do to save her.

    However, he was by no means resigned to his fate, as Shirazi soon learned to his ruinous surprise. The Persian general had laid siege to Erzurum in the first days of July, safe in the knowledge that Kadir was more than three months away and lacked the cannonade to seriously damage his army. As such, he set up for a siege of the city with little concern for assaults by any force other than the Qizilbash horsemen who still roamed over much of the region. As such, he was caught completely off-guard when the small force of pickets he had bothered to set up reported that a large Rûmite army was approaching from the west. Kadir wasn’t an idiot, and his spies within the Qutlughid realm had informed him of the buildup north of Tabriz; from there, the only logical targets were Erzurum and Erzincan, the latter being held by the Trapezuntines. As soon as he had conducted a peace with David, he had marched eastwards, and though still outnumbered he was ready for a fight. The Rûmite army circled north of the city, camping across a dry marshland from the Qutlughid siege camp and opening fire with what little artillery they still possessed.

    After a day and a half of such bombardment, Shirazi decided his best option was to take the field and meet the Rûmites in the open. According to his scouts, he still held a numerical advantage of 35 to 25--in truth it was closer to 35 to 20--and he wished to press this before any possible reinforcements arrived. He also hoped that a speedy defeat might inspire the defenders of Erzurum to surrender quickly, which would allow him to advance deeper into Rûmite territory with great haste. As such, on 6 July, Shirazi’s men marshalled north of the city, leaving behind only 5,000 men to press the siege, and began to advance on the Rûmite camp. Despite the noise that is endemic to any large number of troops, few seemed to stir inside the enemy camp, and Shirazi concluded he could take the enemy by surprise and crush them. He ordered an all-out assault, and his army rushed forward into the dry marsh. They were in the thick of it now, the cavalry vanguard beginning to emerge from the reeds and into the Rûmite camp.

    It was then that the long-burning fuses of the mines scattered across the marsh reached their quick. They exploded into balls of fire, throwing shrapnel and sparks into the tight formations of men. Startled and confused, most of the soldiers halted, a fatal mistake. The sparks caught and spread like, well, wildfire, and within minutes the marsh was a blazing, smoky inferno. Panicking men rushed left and right, trampling each other in their desperation to escape the flames and the choking cloud of ash and throwing the entire army into complete chaos. Blackness soon overwhelmed the area, and those men who did manage to claw their way to the edge of the marsh were met by ranks of unsmiling Turks carrying pikes. All but a handful of noblemen were killed on the spot, and by the time the fires finally burned out the wetlands were a combination pyre and charnel house.

    The Qutlughids holding the camp quickly made themselves scarce, and Kadir was able to seize the complex almost intact, with barely any losses on his side and comparatively little damage to Erzurum. The first army had been entirely shattered and its artillery train, desperately needed to continue the war, taken with only one gun lost. Upwards of 80% of the Qutlughid army were dead, leaving only a few dozen prisoners and hundreds scattered across the rough country, likely to be picked off by the Qizilbash and other highlanders. It was a perfect victory.

    Unfortunately for Kadir, his perfect victory happened to coincide with one of Arslan’s own. The shah had led his army into the remnants of the Çandarid beylik a few days after Shirazi began his offensive, and had met little resistance. After all, the truly valuable lands and opportunities lay in Egypt and lower Syria, and so all but a few old timers and some of the native Arabs had gone south in a hurry in the years before, leaving a small rump state at Aleppo. After promising them patronage in the Qutlughid system, the former capital had surrendered without a fight a week after crossing the river, leaving the road into Rûmite territory wide open. Arslan had dispatched a small picket force to warn of the unlikely approach of troops from the south before making for Cilicia at all due speed. A month later, 30,000 Qutlughid soldiers had arrived at the Cilician Gates with an artillery train sufficient to blow a hole in the Great Wall of China if need be. The Gates were held by 400 nafjayş soldiers and 800 conscripts, along with an indeterminate number of irregulars in the hills surrounding it. They wouldn’t have been able to hold the pass by themselves indefinitely, but they would make Arslan pay a steep price and blood and corpses to pass through it.

    However, they had not considered that Arslan had brought with him some 500 Torghal mountaineers from the Hindu Kush, skilled in alpine warfare and capable of climbing up sheer cliffs barehanded. Within two days, the Torghalss had not only forged a trail across the saddle of a nearby mountain, but had strung lines across it so that some 1500 chosen soldiers could accompany them into the pass. That dawn they struck, hurtling screaming down the pass into the rear of the Turkish formation, catching them completely off-guard and unsuspecting. While the Rûmites struggled to meet the attack from their rear, Arlsan’s cannonade roared to life, hammering their front and pinning them down while several thousand more Qutlughids advanced under their covering fire to join the fray. The Rûmites fought well, but after several hours they were exhausted and, ultimately, dead. The Cilician Gates had been conquered with great speed and comparatively light casualties. The road to Konya was now open, and the seat of the House of Karaman lay only a month’s journey away. Arslan broke off small forces to hold the pass and secure the various fortresses he had bypassed--among them Kayqubadabad--then ordered his army into a forced march across the Plateau, hoping to take the city and put an end to this struggle once and for all.

    Kadir was informed of the disaster only three days later, two dozen horses having been ridden to death to get him the news. The battle at the Gates had thrust Kadir into an unenviable position; his capital would soon be under siege and he could not intercept the attacking army due to both numbers and sheer distance. If Konya fell, then all of Anatolia was laid open to the Qutlughids and the war was surely lost. There was no way to defend the city, not at this range, and it seemed as if there was no path to victory. But a final, desperate option appeared to Kadir that night. If Arslan took Konya, he would seize the bulk of the Rûmite bureaucracy and the treasury. If Kadir took Tabriz, he would take not only the Qutlughid bureaucracy and treasury but also Arslan’s harem and family. If he failed it was suicide, but if he succeeded it might be the only path to victory. There was no army between him and Tabriz, and if he moved quickly he could reach the city before he was intercepted, and a quick siege might be successful under the right circumstance

    In the game to win, the gambler rolled the dice. 80,000 would pay the price….

    [1] Although Paopantaros, the largest Qutlughid port in India wouldn’t be taken until 1542, Kaloupoli, the second largest Pontic port in the east, was founded in 1526
    [2] The Rajputs had been pretty much embittered by Arslan’s attempts to shore up the Sultanate of Delhi, and the Qutlughid eastern frontier was constantly under assault by probing forces and raiders from across the mountains.
    Part LIX: The Arsenal (1527-1531)
  • Eparkhos

    Sorry guys, no time for comment response tonight. I'll do it tomorrow

    Part LIX: The Arsenal (1527-1531)

    The Qutlughid invasion of the Sultan of Rûm should have been a one-sided curb stomping by all rights. However, due to bad planning on the part of the Persians and a mixture of luck and daring on the part of the Turks it would be drawn out into a much longer and bloodier affair. With seemingly no other option available to him, Kadir would make one last frantic rush for victory and provoke the escalation of the First Rûmite-Qutlughid War into a horrific taste of things to come….

    As Kadir and the Rûmite army made their way through the wilds of northern Iran that autumn, they faced a truly grim situation. After receiving word of the disaster at the Cilician Gates, the sultan had ordered all contact with the outside cut so that they couldn’t be tracked on their march. Nonetheless, word of the defeat and the sack of the capital that would almost certainly follow it spread through the ranks like wildfire. There were only 25,000 men in the formation, a number that was slowly but constantly worn down by exhaustion, desertion and attacks by the bandits and Qizilbaş (at many times one and the same). With seemingly no chance of victory as they marched away from their vulnerable homes, discontent also grew within the ranks of the army. Whispers of mutiny became commonplace both in the camp and on the march.

    These tensions came to a head in late August, as the army camped beside the Murat River near the small Turkmen town of Omuzbaşi. The region which the Rûmites were marching through was quite arid, and the already uncertain men flat-out refused to abandon the river as the sultan wished them to with no sign of victory present. The common soldiers occupied the camp and demanded a number of concessions from Kadir, one of the most common ones being a request for peace with the Qutlughids before they all died for essentially nothing. The sultan was left with a few thousand nafjayş and loyal soldiers from a separate camp, but many of their commanders doubtlessly hoped their ruler would cave rather than leading them down this suicidal path. However, Kadir refused. He rode into the camp at midday and stood in his stirrups, gesturing towards his crotch and asking the mutineers if they were more cowardly than a eunuch, in slightly more crude terms. He then bluntly informed the soldiers that they would be going to Tabriz, and that they would be awarded immensely with gold, spices, cloth and slaves taken from one of the richest cities in the world. The combination of this--a carrot and a stick, practically--succeed in quelling the mutiny. A few dozen men would desert over the next two nights, but most of the 25,000 were still present and willing to follow the sultan in a march across the scrubland.

    After a long and harrowing march, the army reached the Zangar River on 2 September , a tributary of the Aras that allowed them to replenish their depleted supplies and briefly rest. Within three days they were on the march again, pressing south through the rough hill country towards the crown jewel of the Qutlughid Empire. There were frequent skirmishes with the tribal hillmen and ranging nomads that dwelled in the region, which were unable to meet the column head on but still quite determined to show their displeasure with the Turks’ presence. Despite the near frequent low-scale battles, the Rûmites’ advance was unknown to Qutlughid authorities until they reached the plains of Khoy in late September, a mere three weeks’ march from Tabriz itself. They had been able to advance in such secrecy thanks to the isolation of the country they were moving across and Kadir’s strict control of outside contact, helped along a great deal by a gap in Qutlughid defenses in the region.

    However, things wouldn’t be as easy as simply marching into the capital. The city was already heavily defended, bearing a garrison and arsenal proportional to the power of the Qutlughid state, and its viceroy, Mohammed Ustajlu, was a capable and quick-thinking man. Upon being informed of Kadir’s approach, Ustajlu leapt into action at once. He ordered the farmers residing around the country to be taken into the city and their harvests either collected or burned to deny them to the enemy. Any workmen or beggars in the city were put to work repairing the walls, while as many men as possible were hastily trained in defensive warfare. By the time Kadir reached the city on 12 October, 50,000 of the 250,000 residents of the city were under arms, and any hope of victory he might have held was effectively gone.

    The grimness of his position couldn’t have been lost on Kadir as he approached Tabriz in the second week of October. The long march across mountains, hills and great stretches of desert had severely depleted his supplies, and the destruction of the vital food he had hoped to find outside the town was quite the bitter blow. Even worse, he had lost or been forced to abandon most of his siege train, leaving only the lightest of his guns to press the siege. Still, a final chance for victory was available to him. While the Tabrizians could easily overwhelm his host, he knew Ustajlu was a fairly cautious man from his history of raiding across the border, and so decided it was unlikely that this could come to pass. However, the large population of the city required a large food supply, and if he could keep the city under siege for long enough it was possible they might fold. With retreat meaning dethronement at best and death at worst, Kadir decided to settle in for the long haul.

    The Rûmites set up two camps on either side of the long circuit of walls, positioned in just the right spot to cut off any hope of resupply. Keeping his men busy and at their peak with constant drilling, the sultan sent out foraging expeditions in all directions to gather as much food as possible. Meanwhile, what cannons were available were hauled up onto the heights to the north of the city, where they began bombarding garrison strongpoints, arsenals and granaries in hopes of weakening the defenders’ will to fight. Finally, he also sent several thousand men to damn the Mehranruhd River, which flowed through the heart of the city. In doing so, he hoped to in one move deny the crowded city much of its vital water supply and secure water for his own army. Chances of victory were slight, but he was determined to make the best of a bad situation.

    Meanwhile, in Anatolia, Arslan was making the best of an excellent situation. After shunting aside the Rûmite forces in the Cilician Gates, his army had advanced swiftly on Konya, swatting aside small forces of militia that tried to stop them. Most of the locals were more concerned with preserving their properties than with any grand notion of geopolitics, and so except for the unfortunates who lived directly along Kayqubad’s Road and opportunistic Turkmen who sometimes attacked the supply train, the Qutlughids went on undisturbed. Konya had surrendered without a fight, as its denizens weren’t particularly loyal to Kadir, and by the end of August the capital of the Sultanate of Rûm was in Arslan’s hands.

    Arslan was a cagey ruler--you don’t get to have a reign lasting more than five decades by being anything less--and was quite familiar with how to treat an occupied country. Rather than installing a governor or some other vassal directly and propping him up with immediate force, it was far easier to locate a member of the previous royal family and install him as a regional satrap. This was a perfect opportunity to do so. After a brief period of inquiry, the sole surviving brother of Kadir, a quiet clergyman named Ibrahim, was located and raised to the throne. He was quite reluctant, but the idea that he would be saving the lives of his new subjects by accepting the office was sufficient to sway him over. His first act, on Arlsan’s ‘recommendation’ was to declare Kadir an outlaw and order all his followers to abandon him. All in all, he was willing to be quite merciful, so long as his dominance and hegemony were respected by his new vassal.

    Upon being informed of the sultan’s attack on Tabriz, his geniality vanished like steam in the desert. He had campaigned against numerous enemies for literal decades, but not once had any of them been so insolent as to try and attack Tabriz itself. Even so, he had stationed an army in Bitlis to prevent any such thing from happening, which meant that Kadir had already either defeated them or the army's commander was a fool or traitor. Either way, he was going to have the heads of everyone involved on a pike. Leaving behind a small force to prop up Ibrahim, he turned and marched with 35,000 men, murder in his heart. He had built up a great number of roads across his empire to facilitate troop movements, but even with this boon and the ability to requisition supplies (somewhat) peacefully, he knew it would still take more than six months to reach Tabriz, a feat he couldn’t accomplish before the winter set in and the passes froze. After a brief back-and-forth, he decided that his best option was to make for the capital with all haste, eating up as much of the road as he could with his literal army while his figurative army of servants and governors organized the construction of a supply depot large enough to keep his force supplied throughout the winter, preferably as close to Tabriz as possible. Meanwhile, he would send as many light forces against the Rûmites as he could, hopefully grinding them down with constant harassment attacks that they could be defeated by the capital garrison or better yet forced to make a winter retreat across the mountains. He made little effort at keeping the latter plan a secret, as it was the most logical thing to do given his situation. Nonetheless, he was fully expectant of a coming victory as he made eastwards throughout the autumn of 1527.

    The winter of 1527-1528 was a hard one, even by the standards of the Lesser Caucasus. A great dust storm had whipped up over Central Asia that autumn and drifted over the Caspian, creating a much hotter and wetter clime that had spawned the mother of all lake-effect storms. The first snows fell in November, forcing Arslan to make camp at Lake Van instead of Lake Urmia, and severely affected Kadir’s siege plans. The sultan had planned to continue his bombardment until December, as well as his various other tactics such as marching his armies around the city to make it look like he was stronger than he actually was. He had constructed his camps to be winterable, but still, the more time an army spent in winter camp the less able it would be come springtime. Nonetheless, the Rûmites were in quarters by the 1st of December.

    As the weather worsened, Kadir’s camp--which was already short on supplies--became increasingly grim. Food, proper food, ran out by the end of January despite careful rationing, and water had be taken from holes broken in the ice atop the damned river. As in most bad sieges, the soldiers had to resort to eating leather and other such scraps of food to survive, including some truly disgusting things like leaves coated in animal piss to provide some sort of nutrition. In a manner quite similar to Mehmed’s siege of Trapezous fifty years before, disease became completely rampant. The usual suspects, typhoid, pneumonia and other such respiratory diseases were joined by syphilis[1] due to contaminated food supplies and an utterly immense amount of food poisoning from the same cause. Kadir took measures to alleviate this, such as sending sick men to separate quarantine camps and shuffling men about to keep frostbite from setting in, but he was fighting a losing battle. Desperate, he decided his best option was to make sure he wasn’t the only one weakened by the outbreaks. He began hurtling bloated, rotting corpses over the city walls in hopes of spreading the contagion, as well as stuffing dead bodies down wells frequented by Qizilbaş. It was a desperate strategy, but it worked. By the time the winter finally faded in late March, he’d lost more than 10,000 men from his host of 25,000, while 50,000 Tabrizians and an unknown number of Qizilbaş had passed as well.

    While winter was undoubtedly terrible, the coming of spring left Kadir in an even worse position. His army had been decimated by the cold, but the Tabrizians, while exhausted by hunger and disease, still stood firm. Arslan’s army closed in from the west, and it was becoming more apparent by the day that his final desperate gamble had failed. After a brief period of deliberation, during which he was informed of his brother’s ascent, he decided that his best option was to break the siege and try to evade the pursuers. No, scratch that, he could be easily run down by the more cavalry-dominated Qutlughid armies. He needed to put himself in a position where he could escape any potential encirclement. After another brief period of consideration, he decided the best place for this would be Ardabil. From there, he could go north, south, east or west as need be, able to vanish into the mountains with little warning to the enemy. He broke camp on 6 April and moved with all haste eastwards.

    Arslan gave chase, moving a good bit faster than the Rûmites, who were slowed by their poor state of conduct and the constant raiding of the Turkmen tribes who resided in the area. The Qutlughids had made it through the winter in much better shape, and so it should be no surprise that they were able to run down the Turks. That they did not do this is frankly bizarre, and the exact reason why is unknown. Nonetheless, as the two armies rushed towards Ardabil that spring, the Qutlughids nipping at the heels of the Rûmites, Arslan’s vengeance was at hand.

    That the agents of his vengeance would not be Persian was quite unexpected. Mamia of Kartvelia had spent the previous year campaigning on the north shore of Lake Sevan against the Lord of Arishni’s followers there. The latter’s favor with the Golden Horde, which was still at the height of its power at this point, was proving to be difficult to surmount, and after some time Mamia had concluded that he should pursue a similar, albeit less dominating, relationship with the Qutlughids. Word of Kadir’s attack had proven to be the perfect chance for him to get it in good with Arslan, and as the snows slackened he rose from his winter camp and rushed southwards, adjusting his track as word came from the Qizilbaş scouts he was employing. On 16 May, some 10,000 Kartvelians intercepted Kadir’s force outside the clan fortress of Sehrahi (OTL Lahrud), holding them long enough for the Qutlughids to catch up.

    The Battle of Sehrahi does not bear to be repeated in great detail. The Rûmites were exhausted and outnumbered by four to one, so the result was never really in question. Kadir formed up in a square, hoping to ward off the enemy and inflict enough casualties to get a clement peace from it. The defenders were swarmed by Qizilbaş, only further wearing them down before the actual assault began. After two hours of constant attack, the Qutlughids and Kartvelians attacked on three sides, smashing through the Rûmite flanks like a sledgehammer through brick[2]. The Rûmites streamed out through the open direction, only to be ridden down and fallen upon by the Turkmen horsemen. Only a few hundred, mostly nafjayş, escaped along Kadir, fleeing into the nearby mountains. By the end of the day, some 15,000 men were dead and several thousand more captured, bringing the total death toll of the expedition to 80,000.

    Despite weeks of pursuit, Kadir would eventually make his way northward. Hopping from mountain range to mountain range, harassed the entire way by Qizilbaş and sometimes even proper armies. His host would dwindle to a few dozen men, but by the end of the year they would escape across the mountains into Transcaucasia. This was bothersome to Arslan, but it didn’t distract him from his new mission. In his mind, Kadir’s invasion had revealed a weak spot; namely, the weakness of his alliance of client states. He already had a client who should have stopped Kadir--David of Trapezous--but had done nothing. If his empire were to survive his death, he needed to secure the chain of client states and satrapies that surrounded his empire on most sides and which stretched from Syria to India.

    The first target of this program was, of course, Trapezous. Unlike the petty states or tribal confederacies that made up the bulk of the vassal sphere, the Trapezuntines could--and in fact did--function as an essentially independent state, paying their tribute on time but otherwise essentially being a sovereign princedom. As their betrayal (in Arslan’s mind, at least) indicated, they needed to be brought down a peg or two and fully pulled into Qutlughid hegemony. As such, after mopping up the Rûmite forces in Persia he turned his gaze westward. By the autumn of 1528, a Qutlughid army sat outside Erzurum, ready to cross the frontier into Trapezuntine territory if need be, while a smaller Kartvelian host rested just outside of Artane, the capital of Trapezuntine Samtskhe.

    David had been busy overseeing a military reform and famine relief, and hadn’t at all expected sudden Qutlughid aggression. As such he had no choice--even under the best of circumstances he probably wouldn’t have had much of a choice--but to accede to Arslan’s demands. The Trapezuntines hadn’t been subject to anything more than nominal tribute for over a century, so the return of any yoke would be a bitter blow; Arslan certainly didn’t help. In addition to the more banal articles, such as an increase in annual tribute payment and a requirement to provide soldiers and servants, there were more extraordinary requirements.

    In particular, there were three demands which David found especially heinous, so much so that he would list them by name in his history. Firstly was the requirement to furnish 100 Pontic and 400 Circassian young women to Tabriz for reasons that should be rather obvious. This was not just insulting in that it forced David to enslave his own subjects, but it also forced the famously Orthodox ruler to be actively complicit in the (predominantly Islamic) enslavement of coreligionists in one of the worst ways possible. Secondly, he would have to make a triannual journey to Tabriz to renew his homage and bring with him several dozen pounds of gold and a thousand slaves--once again, all Orthodox--as tribute. Thirdly, he would have to give up the title of aftokrator itself and be crowned as satrap by Arslan himself. This was profoundly insulting. Not only would David yield the title which his dynasty had held for two and a half centuries--thirteen generations--for a decidedly inferior and by definition subordinate title, Arslan was essentially imposing himself in the place of the Patriarch of Pontos. In the coronation ceremony, the Patriarch was essentially a conduit for God himself, and a Muslim inserting himself there had a number of implications which David found infuriating.

    Even worse, few of these humiliations were visited upon Mamia’s Kartvelia. The Svan didn’t have to pay tribute in slaves, nor did he have to pay the raised standard tribute which Trapezous did, or provide soldiers. Indeed, he actually gained from Trapezous’ humiliation. Arslan ordered David to give over Vatoume, one of the chief ports of the empire, to Mamia in exchange for the hinterland city of Erzurum. To David, who had (or at least believed he had) created a covenant with Mamia, it felt like a complete and utter betrayal. He intended to repay it.

    In hindsight, Arslan was setting his successor(s) up for a serious problem, but he probably didn’t know it. Whether or not he was senile has been a matter of much debate, but doubtless there was a brewing crisis. This crisis would come to a head with his death in 1531….

    [1] Despite some commentor’s remarks, syphilis spread very quickly after it reached the Old World. By 1495 hundreds of men were dying from it during the Italian Wars, and so it’s entirely possible Vakhtang could have had it in 1522.
    [2] I had a summer job demolishing outbuildings, and brick usually shattered pretty solidly. Much easier to deal with than rock.
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    Part LX: The Davidine Army (1527-1533)
  • Eparkhos

    From here on out I'll be aiming for smaller updates, and God willing I'll be able to keep up a steady schedule. Additions and revisions from the draft are in red.

    Part LX: The Davidine Army (1527-1533)

    The First Rûmite-Trapezuntine War greatly impacted the Trapezuntine military. With many of his best soldiers killed in the east or exhausted by months of constant marching, David had been forced to rely almost entirely on the interior bandons. They had done well, comparatively speaking, but the near famine that ensued because of their long absence was a warning of future crisis, and their inability to campaign for extended periods of time put them at a serious disadvantage. With the lessons of the last wars fresh in mind, it was time for David to overhaul the army.

    The most pressing issue was the near-complete lack of high-quality cavalry. Neither the Greeks nor the Lazes were equestrian-inclined peoples, and the mountains and forests of the Pontic coast did little to rectify this. The Turkmen were excellent horsemen, but they were restive at best and outright hostile at worst, and none of the Trapezuntine rulers were willing to take the risk of allowing them into the army as anything other than scouts or outriders. As such, they had gotten on for centuries without anything more mobile than light infantry. This had been tolerable while Trapezuntine interests were limited to the coastal highlands, but now that they were pushing into the interior a counter was needed to the fast-moving horsemen of the Rûmite and Qutlughid armies. While Djoga the Grey and his Mongol horde were servants of the aftokrator, their pastures in Perateia were too distant to be of good use, and there weren’t enough of them to be truly advantageous anyway. However, the submission of the Qizilbaş of Erzincan to Trapezous planted a seed, and as David undertook his military reforms this speed would sprout into a great forest.

    The Qizilbaş were a strange bunch. For centuries, groups of nomads had passed through the Armenian Highlands en route to greener pastures, and by-and-by some of them had broken off and remained in the region. By the 16th century, the region was dominated by the Oghuz, Turkmen and smaller groups of semi-nomadic Persians, Kurds, Lurs, Talyshes and even some Uzbeks and escaped slaves. The one thing uniting this disparate group of nomads, semi-nomads and craftsmen was faith; for varying reasons over the centuries, the Qizilbaş had fallen under the influence of the Safaviyya, a Shi’a mystic order headquartered at Ardabil on the eastern edge of the South Azerbaijan Highlands. The Safaviyya held sway over much of the mountainous Middle East, as various Qizilbaş bands wandered about and took up service as mercenaries and elite troops. By the 1520s, Ardabil’s shadow spread as far west as Syria, where a Qizilbaş tribe had followed the Çandarids towards Egypt, and as far east as Karakum Desert. Nonetheless, the bulk of the Qizilbaş resided in an arc stretching from northwestern Persia into Anatolia, straddling the Rûmite-Qutlugh borderlands.

    Despite their influence, the heterodox beliefs of the Safaviyya meant that neither of the neighboring realms could fully embrace them, instead keeping them at arm’s length and limiting their religious expression and practical control to keep their hold on the rest of the country. Both Tabriz and Konya were cold and somewhat overbearing masters by necessity of their Sunni faith, something which Trapezous did not have to be. The vassalization of the Qizilbaş in Erzincan had opened the possibility of a symbiotic relationship with the Safaviyya in David’s mind, and he hoped to use the mystic order both to reinforce his armies and allow him to spread his influence throughout the region. In 1529, he secretly wrote to Ali Mirza, the head of the Safaviyya, and offered him land, protection and funds if he agreed to an alliance between them. Ali Mirza was quite afraid of Arlsan’s potential wrath and so refused out of hand, but kept the message quiet as a future source of leverage. Nonetheless, the offer of support and protection from various feuding enemies led a few thousand of the Qizilbaş to migrate into Trapezuntine territory, settling around Erzincan. From these men, David was able to extract a pledge of loyalty, securing the first of his new cavalry forces.

    In 1531, Ali Mirza died of an unknown illness, passing the office of head of the order to his brother, Esma’il. Esma’il was a warrior-poet, one of the greatest commanders of the Qutlughid Empire; he had led the Qizilbaş as the vanguard of Qutlughid armies in lands as distant as Kartvelia, the Hindu Kush and Syria, fighting in dozens if not hundreds of actions but emerging without so much as a single wound. He was regarded by his men as a heaven-sent commander who would never lose a battle, and had briefly become the left-hand of the shah himself. However, now that Arslan was clearly on the brink of death, Esma’il looked to secure a place for his marginalized group in the near future. David wrote to him as he had his brother, and this time received a positive response. That autumn, Esma’il and his followers would abandon Ardabil and relocate to Erzincan (and to a lesser extent, Erzurum), establishing the city as the new capital of the order and developing a tacit patron-client relationship with David and Trapezous. This arrival caused a small deal of domestic turmoil within the country, but this was entirely overshadowed by the sheer force--more than 15,000 fighting men--that the newcomers brought with them, as well as the promise of more men that could be called upon if war were to break out. While the relationship between Trapezous and Erzincan seemed to be good, no-one could be truly sure of its future until push came to shove and the armies were mustered out….

    With a strong cavalry force secured, David turned his attention to his infantry. As previously mentioned, the bandons were competent and reliable, but couldn’t be kept in the field for very long because of their semi-professional nature. David saw no reason to replace them entirely, but it had become apparent that another force was needed, something that combined the numbers of the bandons with the discipline and endurability of the eleutheroi, even if they didn’t fully match up. There weren’t nearly enough slaves available to create an expanded eleutheroi of the proper size, and so an army of natives would be needed. The ruler and his generals got to work experimenting with ethnic composition (Greek/Laz/Armenian, etc.), the recruiting basis of the new force (entirely volunteer or mixed), the weapons and uniforms of the new army and even their drills and tactics. From this process of trial and error had, by 1531, emerged the neostrategos.

    The neostrategos arose from the simple observation that an army which ground down the enemy at a distance would take less casualties than an army which relied primarily on melee combat. Advances in weapons technology meant that muskets could be produced on a grand scale, even grander than that of the cannons, and given that it was much easier to train musketeers than it was to train bowmen, a force of gunmen seemed entirely possible. Of course, they’d be vulnerable while they reloaded, so they would need to either fire in lines, or have protection from ‘classical’ phalanx formations, preferably both. They should never be advanced beyond the line and so should maintain the support provided by the main line, but there had to be enough conventional soldiers to ward off any enemy charges. Any such unit would also have to be spread out enough to make good effect of their muskets, but not so spread out that they couldn’t be maneuvered. There were so many demands and requirements that needed to be balanced….

    The first true neostrategos regiment was fielded in 1530. It numbered an even thousand men, of which fifty were corpsmen, standard bearers and other secondary combatants. The regiment was drilled to be able to form up in a half-dozen different ways, in a manner similar to that of the old bandon system. There were two types of foot soldiers. The pikemen bore polearms such as pikes, spears and billhooks and were heavily armored as benefited a conventional melee army of the period. The musketeers, meanwhile, were armed primarily with muskets, as well as a mixture of lighter weapons--swords, axes and maces, etc.--as a last ditch defense, and some lighter armor as well. Both groups wore dark blue tunics, and the long Lazic hats that the Ottomans had once used. The hope was that the two groups would be able to support each other, strengthening them and allowing them to function like armies in miniature.

    David intended to raise some fifteen of these regiments, but by the time war would break out in the east only six of them had been mustered and trained. Ultimately, only twelve neostrategos regiments would be raised throughout David’s reign, most recruiting going to merely replacing losses from years on the battlefield. The units would prove to be quite effective, of that there was no doubt, but there was a great deal both public and private that the program was worth its ultimate cost. In a time fraught with financial uncertainties and declining revenues courtesy of the Spaniards and Irish, the costliness of the neostrategos--per head, they cost a time and a half as much as the eleutheroi to keep in the field--was a major drawback. The eleutheroi were also expanded, an action which drew some of the first direct criticism of David from the presses of Trapezous. The actions which David would take to lessen the financial burden incurred by these actions will be addressed later, but if it is true that they were at least partially motivated by fear of domestic turmoil, their consequences would be greatly ironic.

    After direct military reform had been seen too, or more accurately once he had done all he could directly, David turned his attention to the Empire’s defenses. Fifty years before, the Pontic landscape and its winter had proven to be the undoing of a vast Turkish host, and as David (or perhaps Mgeli?) concluded, the Trapezuntine heartland and hinterland would both be immensely more defensible if the proper defenses were erected. Great deals of coin and labor would be invested into turning the Pontic Alps into a wall impenetrable by cannon or by traitors.

    The Akampsis River had once been a major artery of trade connecting the Black Sea with Trapezuntine Samtskhe, but with the loss of Vatoume to the Kartvelians it became a liability, offering a highway into the heartland of the Empire to an invading force. David ordered all but one bridge across it destroyed, leaving only the crossing directly opposite Vatoume. The river was relatively narrow, but roared and crashed along the walls of its canyon with such speed and ferocity that it would be impossible to cross except in a few places, which were also fortified with cannonade. Any Kartvelian attack would have to come across that lone bridge, while the Trapezuntines could land nearly anywhere along the coastline, if not in Vatoume itself.

    Due to the great expenses involved in constructing fortifications, David was forced to be choosy in the location of the strongholds which were erected during this period. The bulk of them lay along the eastern and southern frontiers, but there were some exceptions made where geography dictated that they be pulled back from the border. For instance, Erzurum--which sits exposed in the Armenian Highlands--was defended only by its (expanded and reinforced) city walls, the outer line of defenses running through the mountains to its north. While physical hardpoints were few, David made good use of Mgelian tactics. Roads were slimmed to easily obstructed chokepoints, small forts were hidden in dense stands of trees to serve as raiding bases, gutters were cut in mountainsides to flood out roads if they were ever opened, and the bandons stationed along these roads were supplied with caltrops and all sorts of nasty traps to slow down or even halt any invading force.

    It didn’t matter how many men came against Trapezous if none of them reached it.

    As previously mentioned, David’s remilitarization efforts were exorbitant, and required the payment of a vast amount of money to various sources. By 1531, the sakellaroi were struggling to keep up payments, and eventually he outright begged David to stop. The young ruler felt that his mobilization wasn’t complete, but had been expecting a cashflow problem to break out for some time now and so relented. Trapezous was, in his mind at least, in as good condition as he could realistically hope for it to be going into a future conflict with the Kartvelians or Qutlughids.

    The timing of this decision couldn’t have been better. A few weeks after the sakellarios’ desperate request, Arslan II was dead, and the Qutlughid Empire was suddenly pitched into chaos. Trapezous, now far stronger than before, was perfectly placed to take her revenge with all haste…*
    Part LXI: A House Divided (1534-1535)
  • Eparkhos

    Part LXI: A House Divided (1534-1535)

    By the time of his death in April 1534, Arslan II had ruled the Qoyunlu Horde and the Qutlughid Empire for a combined total of fifty-six years. Victorious in nearly every war he had fought, he had expanded the frontiers of his empire from the Mediterranean in the west to the Hindu Kush and even briefly Delhi in the east, and from the Amu Darya and Caucasian Mountains in the north to the vast wastes of Arabia in the south. Persia was once more a powerful empire, unified by Sunni Islam, Arslan’s simplified system of laws and the centralized administration of Tabriz. By every metric of the word. Arslan was a great ruler. However, these achievements were fueled at least in part by extraordinary good fortune, and as the self-proclaimed Lion of Iran passed from this earth his dynasty’s fortune would go with him….

    The military success of Arslan’s reign is indisputable, as evidenced by a map of Western Asia in the early 1530s. Dozens of independent kingdoms, statelets and tribes had been crushed and incorporated into the Qutlughid Empire as its great armies had swept out in all directions over several decades of constant low-intensity warfare. The combination of gunpowder-based infantry and professional corps of cavalry was a lethal one, and in both quality and quantity the Qutlughids were one of the foremost military powers in the world. Less obvious was the demographic rebound that occurred across the empire. Once an area had been conquered, the Qutlughids were quite good at ensuring it remained conquered and in many places the half-century or so of peace and stability were the first such period since the Mongol conquest. According to the census of 1533 (940 Hijiri), the population of Iran had finally recovered from the Mongol devastation of centuries previous and passed 3,000,000 for the first time, while the population of the empire at large was around 15,000,000. The Qutlughids also controlled a broad stretch of the world’s most valuable trading networks and farmland, and the collected riches of the region were immense.

    As Arslan’s death drew near, all of this--unimaginable wealth and splendor, millions of subjects and the most powerful state in Western Asia, if not the world west of China--was up in the air. Like many Islamic rulers, Arslan had an almost comically large harem--supposedly 100,000 women, so many that he physically couldn’t have had sex with them all--and a practical legion of sons. Given the sheer number of his children, he was able to pick and choose the most intelligent and capable of his sons to give roles in his government and groom towards succeeding him. The shahanshah tried to balance the need for ‘backup’ heirs as a contingency and the danger posed by having multiple claimants with the skills needed to properly stage a coup, but ultimately he strayed too far towards the former.

    In the end, his chosen heir was his thirty-fourth son, Muhammed Rostam (b.1504) the son of an Armenian slave. Rostam reminded Arslan of himself, already a renowned warrior and poet of quick wit and hand at only eighteen. After several years of specific, focused training, Rostam was growing into a wise, calculating ruler. Inspired by stories of Harun al-Rashid, the young prince took to disguising himself and traveling amongst the people of Tabriz to see how they lived and give charity. Although devout he was not overly so, aware that the religious minorities of the empire might revolt if persecuted, and already had several children of his own. Wishing to give Rostam the best start to his reign as possible and feeling death creeping upon him, Arslan entrusted the Qal’i Sword[1] and the Crown of Arslan[2] to him in the winter of 1533, imprisoning his brothers in Tabriz in a gilded cage and ordering the other competent claimants to come to the capital to pay tribute to him. This was done by March over the quiet grumbling of several of Rostam’s brothers, and the great shahanshah prepared to leave the earth.

    At last, at the age of 81, Arslan died on 3 April 1534[3]. Word of his passing rippled out across the city like a wave and the people fell into mourning as a figure of stability for more than a century finally passed. The bazaar and all of its wings were shuttered and all business and dealings in the city ground to a halt. Arslan was ritually bathed and then enshrouded, and the people of the city held a great procession as he was carried to the cemetery. In later years, it would be said that the city seemed to vibrate with the recitation of funeral prayers. Because of all this ritual and ceremony, the discovery of the burnt and horrifically mutilated corpse of a guardsmen in Lake Urmia went ignored by the city watch, despite the gleaming bolt driven through his heart.

    The stability which Arslan had tried to ensure began to unravel before his body was even cold. Once the Qutlugh princes returned to the palace for the usual three-day mourning period they began to bicker amongst themselves over everything from the food at the public reception to who should sit upon the throne. In particular, the sixteenth son, Mohammed Siyavash (b.1491), had also been trained in the arts of war and statecraft and in fact was much more experienced than Rostam, which Siyavash believed ought to make him the next shahanshah. Rostam was furious at this, and shouted at his brother that he was saved from execution only by the mourning period, and that if he did not give up his claim he would kill him himself. One of the other brothers, Mohammed Kurosh, managed to talk them down, but it was a foreshadowing of things to come.

    On 7 April, the mourning period complete, Rostam was publically crowned and re-girded in the Blue Mosque, being hailed by the people of the city as the rightful shahanshah and heir to Arslan. He emerged to further cheering by his subjects, and for a few short minutes he was the sole and undisputed ruler of Persia. Then a gold-tipped quarrel blossomed out of his throat, and the shahanshah toppled to the ground, dead. Horrified silence fell over the crowd for a long second, and then the panic hit. Mobs rushed in all directions, screaming and shouting and trampling each other as three more of the princes went down. The guardsmen struggled to surround the surviving princes and then rushed them back inside, where they huddled until night fell.

    Soldiers and watchmen combed the city in the following days, hunting for the mysterious assassin while the princes squabbled over their rights to the throne. Several of the princes were killed over the following weeks, and despite the frequency of the attacks the sniper was impossible to identify. Accusations flew as princes accused each other of killing their brothers for personal gain. The only connecting elements were their family and the gold-tipped quarrels, which could only be traced to some Greek who’d been dead for the better part of the last decade, and so an investigation was almost impossible to conduct. Rostam should legally be succeeded by his eldest son, the eleven-year-old Alp Muhammed, but Siyavash and several others claimed that Alp Muhammed’s Latin mother had baptized him as an infant, which they claimed made him illegitimate. With so much power and money on the table, the only Qutlugh willing to support Alp Muhammed’s claim was one of the younger sons, Alp Temur, who was quite the charismatic speaker. Alp Temur seemed to be on the verge of swaying most of his brothers to his cause when, in mid-April, Alp Muhammed was shot through the chest by the assassin and bled out. With the chief obstacle to his claim on the throne gone, Siyavash was free to proclaim himself the rightful heir of Arslan, and despite Alp Temur’s attempts to rally support for Rostam’s other son, Arslan the Younger, he could not be stopped.

    On 5 May, Siyavash was crowned and girded in a much less public ceremony, proclaiming himself the rightful shahanshah and being hailed as such by the crowd that could squeeze into the Blue Mosque proper. By this point many of his brothers had fled the capital, rightfully suspecting that he would attempt to purge them, but those which remained in Tabiz were rounded up and confined inside the harem complex. After extracting pledges of loyalty from all of these, Siyavash then mustered out the (much-expanded after Kadir’s attack) city army and had it hail him as well, hoping to secure their loyalty further. He announced a pay-raise for all soldiers who followed him, which quickly won the support of most of the military. He then ordered all of his brothers to return to Tabriz or face execution, throwing down the gauntlet.

    Most of the princes would reluctantly comply or flee beyond the borders of the empire, but two raised their standards in revolt. First was Alp Temur, who had slipped out of Tabriz after Alp Muhammed’s death with Arslan the Younger and fled to Herat, the capital of the Qutlughid East. The region wasn’t especially rich and much of it was still controlled by clans and aristocrats, but the east was the most heavily militarized part of the empire because of the need to defend from the Uzbeks and the Sisodians. Alp Temur promised a 25% pay raise to any soldiers who struck for he and Arslan the Younger and quietly negotiated with the local clans, offering them greater rights and autonomy. At this time there were also a great number of dispossessed Indian Muslims who’d been exiled from India proper but were still quite good at fighting, and Alp Temur was able to raise several thousand of them as light horsemen. Within a few short months, tens of thousands of men had rallied to Alp Temur and Arslan the Younger. Siyavash made several assassination attempts against them as he gathered his own soldiers, but it was perfectly clear that the two great armies would meet on the battlefield bar divine intervention.

    Meanwhile, another one of Arslan’s sons, a very minor figure named Mohammed Khosrau (b.1495), slipped out of Tabriz and fled southward. He arrived at Basrah a few weeks later but laid low, wanting to let the conflict between the others play itself out before making his own play for the throne. As the armies of Siyavash and Alp Temur assembled that summer and began to make probing attacks prior to the first major actions in the autumn, Mohammed Khosrau wrote to the vassal sultan of Damascus, Jibril al-Ghazali, and asked for his support for a rising. al-Ghazali gave a non-committal answer, not wanting to lose his throne in case things went sideways, and Khosrau was left in a vulnerable position, without any supporters but known to a potential ally of one of his half-brothers.

    In November 1534, Alp Temur and Siyavash met outside Varamin and fought an inconclusive battle just north of the city. The two armies had converged on the region after Alp Temur opted to follow the northern road towards Tabriz rather than swinging south to take the south road and potentially leave Herat exposed. Siyavash’s army numbered 20,000 infantry and 5,000 horsemen, while Alp Temur’s host numbered 20,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry, albeit with Siyavash’s host being of a slightly higher quality. Seeing his half-brother camped across the river, Alp Temur split his forces, sending most of his cavalry south to ford the river and attack him in the rear. Siyavash saw this and used the opportunity presented by his temporary numerical superiority to try and force a crossing against Alp Temur’s weaker force. After several hours of thick and bloody fighting, Siyavash’s men succeeded in gaining a bridgehead on the river, but Alp Temur’s cavalry was returning and Siyavash gave the order to pull back. The greatest impact of this battle was to make a long, drawn-out conflict certain, as Alp Temur physically could not advance all the way to Tabriz before the snows set in.

    When word of Varamin reached Basrah, Mohammed Khosrau decided that the time was right. He proclaimed himself the shahanshah, and with a fiery and impassioned speech managed to swing many of the locals to his cause. He pillaged the provincial treasury, where the payments of the Anatolekoi to Tabriz and Trapezous as well as normal tariff revenue were kept, and sent out a call for mercenaries into the desert. He rallied the local militias and border troops to his cause, and within a few short weeks had a few thousand infantry and several thousand more Bedouin cavalry willing to fight for him. As 1534 came to a close he marched on Baghdad, taking the city and parading through it to cheers of ‘Shahanshah!’.

    As 1535 began, the Qutlughid Empire was tearing itself apart….

    [1] This is the White Sword of the Prophet, which Arslan purchased from one of the Mamluk emirs during the sultanate’s collapse. It and the crown would become the chief symbols of the Qutlughids and their legacy.
    [2] During Arslan’s time, the crown would’ve been known as the Crown of Persia. It was designed in 1493 for his coronation as Shahanshah the following year, and made by a specialized team of smiths, forgers and jewellers. It was a radiant crown (think statue of liberty) made of gold, with an ivory band around its rim and its spikes inlaid with constellations of small gemstones. Because of its association with Arslan it would become known to history as the ‘Crown of Arslan’, and used or copied by rulers trying to associate themselves with his conquests and the Pax Iranica that followed.
    [3] The death of Arslan--or rather, Arslan/Ya’qub Beg--marks a fairly major milestone in the story. The last major figure who existed ‘in the same form’ for lack of a better word in both OTL and TTL has just shuffled off his mortal coil, and everything from here on out will have diverged from OTL to a major degree.
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    Part LXIV: Union (1534)
  • Eparkhos

    I should note that I wrote this in several disjointed sessions, so I might have messed up the dates. Like I said yesterday I'm also making updates shorter, so I deliberately cut some things out. Just let me know if you have any questions.

    Part LXIV: Union (1534)

    In the aftermath of Ananuri and the Mongol ravaging of Kartli and Kakheti, Kartvelia as a whole was radically changed. Many branches of the country’s ancient nobility were hacked down, and paupers became lords as easily as lords became paupers. Mamia Dadiani struggled to hold the country together throughout this period of chaos, but ultimately he would fail. His autocratic and erratic behavior would turn subject after subject away from his cause, and those disgruntled ones banded together to unseat their king. After a brief mirage of stability, Kartvelia would once again erupt into civil war, and the Megalokomnenoi would move eastward….

    The Battle of Ananuri and the years following had absolutely gutted the eastern half of Kartvelia, killing hundreds of thousands of people within a few short months and driving God only knew how many into exile in Qutlughid and Trapezuntine territory or slavery across the mountains. The ensuing civil war between the Dadianis and the Lord of Arishni was also horrifically bloody, with a half-decade of raids, counterraids and even occasional pitched battles killing or driving out tens of thousands before the post-war purges of anyone even vaguely affiliated with Arishni even began. Kakheti was so devastated that there were more Azeri nomads in the region than natives for a few decades.

    While warfare of the time typically came down fairly lightly on the nobility, the ancient and expansive aristocracy of pre-war Kartvelia was absolutely gutted, as Nogai Ahmed Khan had gone out of his way to kill noblemen and their families to sow chaos in the lands which he didn’t directly conquer. The Bagrationis, the oldest and most venerable of the Kartvelian nobility, were the worst hit. Before Ananuri, they had controlled the four most powerful duchies in the kingdom as well as Kartvelia itself, but after the kingdom had been reunified they held, or rather clung, to only Guria in the south-west.

    Mamia’s policies played a large part in this. After defeating the Lord of Arishni--or more accurately after Ananuri, he just had time to deal with the nobility now--the king decided, in one of his few wise administrative decisions, that there was no reason the powerful magnates that had been a recurring headache for Kartvelian monarchs since time immemorial should get their land back. He allowed the nobility that had survived on the western side of the Likhni Mountains to keep their land and titles but cut back on their political autonomy sharply, but gave the vast tracts of empty land on the eastern side of the Likhnis to loyal followers and commanders, mostly Abkhazians. By itself, this would have been a wise decision, but Mamia had little interest in managing the affairs of his realm and so passed the task of giving out secondary titles and land grants to his councillors, many of whom were quite corrupt. Within a few short years, the project of redistributing and colonizing the east had turned into a godforsaken mess as rival clans and sometimes entire hostile ethnic groups were settled beside each other and land given to the highest bidder.

    This angered a lot of people. The surviving members of the old nobility were furious that they or their cousins had been stripped of what they saw as their lands and many members of the new nobility and even the army were furious that Mamia, whom they had seen as one of them, a tough and strong general who would reform Kartvelia to erase the abuses of the old system had morphed into just another palace mandarin. Most of the peasants were angry at Mamia because of his inability to defend them against Azeri raids, or because they, the Kartvelians, were being replaced by Armenians, Circassians and Vainakhs in lands that had once been theirs. Mamia was aware of the fomenting disgruntledness amongst many of his subjects, but in his mind this grumbling came solely from the old nobility whose power he’d broken. The answer, of course, was to win some military victories to make himself look better. Mamia wasn’t a dumb man, but he wasn’t especially good at most things beyond being a general and so his bickering councillors were essentially running Kartvelia internally.

    Mamia’s favored tactic of ‘victory to bring legitimacy’ led him north across the mountains in 1532. He attempted to force Ma’aru the Grey, as he was now known, to pay tribute to him, and advanced up the Caucasian Gates with a large army. However, Ma’aru had moved more quickly and occupied Aleks’andretsikhe against the Kartvelians, hauling cannons up into it and effectively barring the door over the mountains. Upon reaching the fortress, Mamia was driven back under heavy cannon-fire, and after a few weeks of failed siege he was forced to sue for peace. (Note: This is a highly truncated version of events).

    This defeat sparked a conspiracy to depose Mamia. The previously mentioned aggrieved parties came together to overthrow the king, but this burgeoning coup was nearly strangled in its crib by infighting amongst the would-be rebels. All parties agreed that a king should be raised up to replace Mamia, but they couldn’t agree which king ought to be the one to take the throne. Most of the old nobility wanted either themselves or Giorgi Bagrationi of Guria, the most powerful of the surviving Bagrationi, to take the throne, while most of the new nobility wanted one of their own, a former lieutenant of Mamia named Giorgi Bzipi. This divide threatened to tear apart the revolt plot for several harrowing months and caused a long delay in any real organization, but then a compromise was reached: David of Trapezous. Unlike the other candidates, David could offer outside support, and to the old nobility his Trapezuntine holdings would be enough of a distraction to keep him from interfering on their affairs, while to the new nobility his foreignness would allow him to reform the Kartvelian state and crush those whose interference had caused Ananuri. In 1533, an invitation was quietly sent to Trapezous. David had already been preparing to proclaim himself the rightful King of Kartvelia via Keteon’s claim once Arslan had died, and so after vacillating for about a second he wrote back and agreed. After some negotiation by correspondence, David and the Kartvelian nobles agreed to a joint strike against Mamia once Arslan was no longer a factor.

    In the interim, David began mobilizing and making final preparations for an invasion of Kartvelia, something that should have been noticed immediately by Mamia or the Qutlughids. However, Mamia was distracted by Circassian raids and migrations coming from the north-east frontier--the collapse of the Golden Horde had sent waves of Mongols and other steppe peoples out in all directions, and Circassia was one of the few regions too weak to hold them off or assimilate them--and trying to deal with increasingly aggressive Azeri and Armenian clans, while the Qutlughid bureaucracy was far more concerned with Arslan’s impending demise than they were with one of their vassal states acting strangely. The Kartvelian nobility, or at least those in on the planned revolt, also began to quietly prepare themselves for war. Word of Arslan’s death reached Akhaltsikhe in late April, and the first of the Kartvelians proclaimed the revolt a few days later. Word of this actually reached Trapezous before Arslan’s death had, and so David had two panic-inducing days before word of the old lion’s death and the rest of the rebels joining the cause reached him. Once confirmation that the rebels had in fact kicked off the war reached him on the 1st of May he leapt into action.

    The first lord to raise the standard of revolt was Alek’sandre of Lidza, the Lord of Samtskhe-Akhaltsikhe, and for this reason the war would be known to history as the Samtskheote Rebellion. The namesake region struck for David from the outset, as Mamia had done little to protect them from Armenian migrations from the south (or so they thought), and Lidza led a rebel army north towards Kutaisi within a week of his proclamation. Other lords soon followed. Guria, of course, also struck for the rebels, as did the Principality of Gori, which controlled the Mtkvari Valley north of Tbilisi, the tribes of the Pkhovelian March in the north-east and the Duchy of Racha, which lay in the mountains north of Kutaisi. Meanwhile, the royal crownlands, most of Imereti, all of Abkhazia and a few distant holdings including the ruins of Tbilisi struck for Dadiani. Several territories in the east were held by men loyal to Dadiani, but seeing the strength of the rebels they proclaimed their neutrality. The Svans descended into their own civil war over who to back.

    Mamia reacted swiftly. If not a good ruler, he was at the very least a good general and recognized at once that the situation was difficult but not unsalvageable. His first act was to sack most of his advisors for letting a conspiracy of this scale go undetected. Most of the western half of the country remained loyal, and though on paper it was smaller it was by far the most densely populated part of Kartvelia. Trapezuntine involvement was certain--the rebel motto was ‘For God and King Davit’, not exactly subtle--and Kartvelia’s coastline would immediately become a liability. Racha was the most isolated rebel region, and if he could knock it out he could turn his full attention to the other rebels. Once Racha was subdued he could move against Gori, knock it out and swing the neutrals back onto his side, allowing him to break Guria, Samtskhe and whatever Trapezuntine forces had managed to arrive. He raised his armies immediately and summoned his brother Dyrmit, the new march-ward of Abkhazia, with all his men.

    With speed a priority, Mamia struck north in early May with a force of 4,000 cavalry and mounted infantry. The decision to betray the Dadianis was unpopular with the common people of Racha, and he had no trouble finding guides for an overland attack against Ts’esi, using a network of small valleys and forgotten roads to race through the Caucasian foothills and bypass most of the Duchy’s defenses in the process. After only six days of hard riding through the backcountry, Mamia and his men exploded out of the wilds at Ambrolauri and took the city by storm. Ts’esi, less than an hour’s ride away[1], heard, or rather saw, of Mamia’s approach before the word had even reached them, and the panicking defenders surrendered at once. Shoshita Chkheidze, its duke, was killed on the spot for treason, and Mamia elevated his chief guide, one Rati the Shepherd, as its duke, and the rest of the region was quickly secured.

    Meanwhile, the Trapezuntines burst onto the scene in the west. 10,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry landed at Vatoume on 6 May, followed a day later by 10,000 infantry at Poti near the mouth of the Rioni. In one swift move, David had deposited two formidable armies at Mamia’s back doorstep. The southern army, led by David himself, raised a small garrison from the (majority Pontic) population and then went north, linking up with the Gurian army under Bagrationi on 11 May near Shekvetili. The two men despised each other almost at once, but were willing to put aside their mutual hatred for the sake of their shared goals. With constant naval resupply and hence no baggage train, the Davidine force was able to advance with great speed along the coast, reaching Poti on 14 May. The city was under siege by a few hundred militia from the surrounding countryside--the Trapezuntines hadn’t sallied out because it seemed like a trap--but the arrival of the main force caused them to disperse. There were now some 30,000 Davidine soldiers camped less than a month’s march from Kutaisi: the situation for the Dadianis was rapidly becoming untenable.

    Nonetheless, Dadiani was able to assemble a force of some 12,000 men in Kutaisi, most of them infantry and many of them veterans of previous campaigns under him. Things looked quite grim, and even with Dyrmit’s army of 5,000 he would be outnumbered by nearly two-to-one in a standup fight. Still, he might be able to pull out a victory. As far as he could tell, David was motivated by simple avarice. Imereti was probably already lost, but if he could inflict a bloody enough defeat against the Ponts and knock out the nobles in the east, then he might be able to cling to power in the east. He just needed to buy time. He dispatched Dyrmit to delay the Davidine advance in the west while he went for a crushing victory in the east.

    The Samtskheotes had converged with the other eastern rebels at Gori by mid-May, together forming a host of about 1,000 cavalry and 8,000 infantry, most of the latter being poor quality and overall being a very uninspiring force. However, 3,000 Pkhovelian highlanders, renowned for their ferocity in battle, would join them two weeks later. With their army united (but not their leadership), the eastern rebels began making their way west by the beginning of June. Had Mamia been able to move with his desired speed, he would have crushed them. However, some years before he had made the foolish decision of allowing the majority-Pontic garrisons of Vakhanistskalikastron, Bezhatubanikastron and Rikotitskhe to settle in the lands around their castles and intermarry with the locals. As soon as word of David’s arrival had reached them, these Ponts had taken up arms, quietly slipped into their old keeps--they had built them, after all--turned out the official garrisons and then turned their cannons west. Rather than winning a quick victory, Mamia spent weeks banging his head against their walls before being forced to withdraw by the approach of the rebels.

    Meanwhile, in the west, Dyrmit was doing the opposite of what he was supposed to be doing. Seeing the writing on the wall, the king’s brother entered secret negotiations with David as soon as he was within a day’s ride, offering to surrender his force to the Davidines if not outright switch sides in exchange for estates, a position of nobility in the new Trapezuntine government and total amnesty from the many enemies he’d made in Kartvelia. Seeing this as a small price for removing a major piece from the board and a potential major morale blow to the Dadiani cause, David accepted. However, Dyrmit feared that his men would kill him if he just surrendered, so he made another agreement with David. He contrived to cross the Rioni in the middle of the day at a prearranged point, and as soon as his army was halfway across the Davidines sprung their ambush and forced his men to lay down their arms. Most were sent away without their weapons, but those willing to defect joined the ranks of Bagrationi’s men.

    Word of this defeat spread like wildfire, and soon reached Mamia, who was fighting a delaying action at Shorapni in hopes that the rebels would turn to infighting if they failed to make headway. When informed that his brother had been captured and that the road to Kutaisi was now wide open, he fell into a brief period of despair. Realizing that their hopes of victory were now slim to none, Dadiani’s army began to fall apart around him. The king realized what was happening and tried to stop it, breaking camp and marching west in hopes of offering a final defense of the capital, but his men weren’t eager to lose their lives in what was clearly a doomed cause. By the time he reached Kutaisi on 12 June, with rebel forces close behind, his host had dwindled to only 3,000. The main Davidine host was camped less than three days to the west, and the walls were closing in. He pondered burning the city until his wife, Maria, caught wind of it.

    “It is over.” she said. “We have lost. Too many of our people are dead, do not kill more.”

    Dadiani and a few followers abandoned the city and rode north into the wilds. Kutaisi was taken by the eastern rebels the next day, and on 15 June, after a stunning whirlwind of a campaign, David entered the city in a triumphant procession and was crowned Davit X of Kartvelia.

    [1] At this time Ts’esi sat on a ridgeline opposite its current location.
    Part LXV: Administering an Empire II (1534-1537)
  • Eparkhos

    Little time tonight, sorry. In hindsight, I could've gotten two updates out if I managed my time better, but it's too late now.
    I dont remember that happening. Was it when the Golden Hoarde kicked everyone's ass until it couldn't?
    Yeah, that was what effectively started that period.

    Part LXV: Administering an Empire II (1534-1537)

    After a surprisingly short civil war, David had finally achieved his year-old dream of punishing Dadiani and even gained Kartvelia as a junior partner. However, this victory had been achieved by an alliance with a coalition of disaffected nobles, half of whom had considered Mamia too weak and the other half not weak enough, and these nobles had in turn been driven to revolt in part because of extensive pressures building up on the lower classes of the country. A foreigner in the very lands of rule, the shifting sands of regional politics could easily sweep David and the Trapezuntines away. The ghosts of Ananuri still stalked the hills and valleys of Kartvelia, and if he wasn’t careful David’s men or even himself could join them. Kartvelia was a powderkeg, and Dadiani had left his successor holding a match….

    On 15 June 1534, Kutaisi was a city enraptured. In the near decade since the Battle of Ananuri, Kartvelia had seen near-constant civil war, but with David’s arrival it seemed as if they had escaped the sorrow’s veil, for a time at least. The streets were crowded with happy, cheering people, and in David’s mind he must have seemed a liberator. In a long and fairly ornate procession, full of pomp and circumstance, he and his retinue rode through the city’s circuit roads and into the market square, tossing coins, figs, and janjukha candies to his new subject. After completing the circuit, he crossed the Davidine Bridge to the Bagrati Cathedral, where Patriarch Shio III[1] placed the Sewn Crown of the Seven Crosses, the royal sword and scepter upon him and named him Davit X of Kartvelia.

    The first problem was land. The hellish decade since Ananuri had left great swathes of Kartvelia empty, and more often than not their legal claimants lay in unmarked graves on said empty land. Kartvelia had a feudal system similar in the broad strokes to that of Western Europe, and despite their differences the crux of both was that land and titles would be used to cement ties between patron and client, as well as being a reward for various other things that brought benefit to one party or another. The existing nobility, or at least those who’d helped David take the throne, felt that they were owed the lion’s share of the unsettled land across the realm. David was willing to give some of that land out to shore up his support, but giving all or even most of it was a bridge too far. The Trapezuntine nobility was effectively neutered, with none of the massive privileges of their Kartvelian counterparts, and David aspired to bring about a similar state of affairs in his new realm. These land grants provided an opportunity to increase his authority, and if he played his cards well even turn the Kartvelians against each other to his benefit.

    By this point, the previous anti-Dadiani coalition had splintered into the ‘weak king’ Bagrationi faction led by its namesake, and the ‘strong king’ Abkhazian faction, led by Abga the Bear, the Lord of Gori. Keeping in mind the need to keep them appeased lest another civil war break out (for now, anyway), David summoned the leading figures of both factions to the Mtsvanekvavila Palace[2] in mid-June to the Royal Council and began doling out estates and titles. He made a great show giving out ducal and princely titles to the high nobility and their relatives, rotating between factions in a grandiose way, but did it in such an obnoxiously slow manner that it took five days for just the roll to be called. As hoped, most of the Kartvelians took advantage of the wine which was being given out, and once the majority of them were drunk or asleep David got down to the real business. The only ducal title given to a Greek was that of the revived Ward-Duchy of Khornabuji and Rustavi, whose bearer was charged with defending the eastern frontier and thus possessed the largest standing force in the kingdom; It was given to a fiercely loyal Nikaian named Konstantinos Hatzimarkos. However, while Kartvelians held most of the top ranks, the lesser ranks--the people who directly oversaw the peasants and were the backbone of any army of the period--were filled with Ponts, Lazes, Goths, Circassians and Turkopoles whose loyalty to him was certain. Once the last of the major titles were given out, the full bull, written in both Greek and Kartvelian, was skimmed over and then happily signed by most of the councillors[3]. This was sufficient for the bull to officially be promulgated and made law.

    David kept the nobility in Kutaisi for as long as possible, hoping to buy time before his ruse was discovered so that all of his new vassals could get into place. Despite their greatly diminished numbers, the Kartvelians were as feudatory as ever, and the usual round of murder plots and duels was well under way within a few weeks. The Bagrationis still lusted after their previous dominance of the kingdom, while the Abkhazians were determined to cling to their newfound power and transform Kartvelia into a state capable of fending off any future invasions, and their conflict played out in both the chambers of power on the Royal Council and on the streets of Kutaisi.

    David’s deception was uncovered by the end of August. Konstantin Bagrationi, a distant relative of the aforementioned Giorgi, had been granted title to the lands around Khashuri in the upper Mktari Valley, and by an accident of fate so had one Gregorios Aphtagaris. Aphtagaris had gotten there first, and Konstantin arrived to find ‘his’ manor occupied by some lowly Greek. He demanded that Aphtagaris leave, to which Aphtagaris shot him in the face. Stunned, his retinue fled, bringing news of his death to his cousin in Kutaisi. Giorgi was furious, and stormed into the royal chambers demanding to know why the hell there were Greek settlers in Kakheti and why one of them had just shot his kinsman. David coolly replied that all of this had been outlined in the bull, and while Konstantin’s death had been tragic it was no fault of his. Bagrationi demanded another council be convened on the matter, to which David complied. However, he had intentionally concentrated the bulk of the subtitles in the duchies and principalities of the Bagrationi faction, and with the grudging support of the Abkhazians the bull remained in place. David had just made an enemy for life.

    In late September, word came from Trapezous. Ioncela had died in an outbreak of typhoid at the beginning of the month. She and David had never been especially close but it was still a great loss, and with the Imperial regency temporarily left adrift, David left Kutaisi for Trapezous the very next day. As soon as he was gone every noble in the city started doing calculations about how long he’d be gone, and sure enough storms on the Black Sea and in the mountains would keep him in Trapezous until the spring. Hatzimarkos, his regent, must’ve felt like a bleeding chicken in a snake pit as the vipers showed their fangs….

    It was the Bagrationis who made the first move. Having lost most of their expected spoils from David’s little scheme, Giorgi Bagrationi feared that his faction would soon lose most if not all of its influence on the royal court. After all, the Abkhazian faction’s raison d'etre was to strengthen the monarchy, so there was no real reason for David to not purge them if he was given the chance. They had to act quickly, before he could return and destroy them.

    On 21 November 1534, the Bagrationis staged a coup in Kutaisi. Or rather, they tried to stage a coup. Giorgi’s plan was to gather the nobles of his faction and their followers in the city square south-east of the palace, then fan out to surround the palace and prevent any escapes before entering the palace itself and slaughtering Hatzimarkos and the Davidines in their sleep. Once the designated night came, however, half of the plot had already backed out, half of the rest had mistaken their mission and congregated at the Bagrati Cathedral and many of the others had gotten lost. Giorgi spent several hours trying to assemble his ramshackle force into more than a glorified mob, during which several retainers realized what was going on and slipped away to raise the alarm. Within a few short minutes an angry mob had also assembled in the square, royally pissed at Bagrationi for wanting to cause another war (and because David had started giving out donatives to the public). Shouts turned to taunts and then violence, and the plotters were outnumbered by five to one. By the time Hatzimarkos and his neostrategoi mobilized and reached the square, they had to fight the Kutaisians off to get to and arrest the Bagrationis. Giorgi himself was on the verge of having his head caved in with a chair when the soldiers reached him, and he was happily arrested.

    Bagrationi and his surviving confederates were thrown into a dungeon for the next few months until David returned in March. Having effectively been called away for a funeral, David was absolutely furious at the men who had dared to betray him. The names of all plot members had already been tortured out of the prisoners a time before, and now David descended upon them with a vengeance. Every landholder who had associated with them was to have his lands stripped from him, all titles and fiefdoms of he and his children forfeited to the central monarchy, and their relations to the third degree exiled beyond the borders of both Kartvelia and Trapezous. Any who returned would be killed on sight. As for the direct conspirators, those who had assembled in the square that night, they would lose their heads. Slowly. After Giorgi Bagrationi’s head was mounted on a pike above the southern gate of Kutaisi on 27 March, his corpse was flayed and patches of skin and bone sent to every lord in Kartvelia as a reminder of the fate that awaited traitors.

    Some of these dispossessed lords chose to try and fight, of course, but none of them got very far. After the previous year’s declaration of peace, many of the common people of Kartvelia were unwilling to fight another round of civil war and either outright refused to take up arms or took up arms and ran their erstwhile masters over the horizon. Those few lords which were both willing and able to fight were met within a few weeks by the neostrategoi, loyal noblemen aiming for their land and titles or Pkhovelian highlanders, none of whom were known for being especially merciful. Within a few months, most of the would-be rebels were either over the mountains or in unmarked graves: The ‘weak king’ faction had been completely broken.

    In the aftermath of the failed coup, David moved swiftly to further shore up his power. The vassals directly opposed to him had been smashed and the more restive noblemen cowed by his show of force. It was the perfect time to undertake his reforms. Guria was brought under direct rule as part of the crownlands, securing the vital coastal roads between Trapezous and Kutaisi, and while the road remained under direct control the lands around it were parceled out to loyalists. Mindful of his public image, David made a great show of giving land grants to Kartvelian followers, mostly men he had worked with in the aftermath of Ananuri, using the pomp and circumstance in Guria and the recently gained lands in Samtskhe to cement his image as a fair king. As a reward for their support during the coup, the common people of Kutaisi were also given financial support in varying manners. Within a few short years, Kartvelia had been plotted with loyalists to both David and the Megalokomnenoi at large, and while there was still a dearth of them in the ranks of the upper nobility it was clear that David had the go-ahead for expanding his authority.

    The royal council convened several times in 1535 and 1536. David was cautious in this regard, not wanting to wear out the support boost he received after Bagrationi’s coup, but he was able to persuade the high nobility of the realm to expand his powers. In July 1535, they allowed him near-unilateral decision-making in the appropament of subject lands and the extension (but not revocation) of titles below that of ‘prince’, which David justified as being necessary to prevent malicious persons from taking power. In the spring of 1536, after a long debate, he was also given joint authority (with the Kartvelian Patriarch) over foreign declarations of war with other states. Both of these moves allowed him to reclaim powers previously held by monarchs during the Golden Age of the 10th to 13th century. However, he was unable to regain authority over the ancient rights of taxation because of nobles getting cold feet. All in all, though, it was a dramatic improvement over the powers which Vakhtang and his successors had held.

    Conscious of his duties as the headman of the entire Kartvelian feudal pyramid, David also intervened heavily within the lives of his subjects. He mediated disputes between his vassal lords with real integrity, refusing to abandon his honor before God for influencing what he saw as truly his kingdom. Many times he rode through the countryside, speaking to the peasants and correcting the worst excesses of the minor aristocracy, even his own followers. This earned him a reputation for being a just and honorable man, and he was widely respected by the lower classes of Kartvelia. However, despite numerous entreatments by everyone and their mother in the Kartvelian aristocracy he refused to remarry, abandoning one of the most effective alliance-making strategies (and a potential heir) for reasons known only to himself.

    By 1537, Kartvelia was on the road to recovery after a long and turbulent 1520s. However, just as things were coming together they would be cast apart again….

    [1] Patriarch Shio III would come to be a steadfast ally of David. Because of the unprecedented (to my knowledge) situation of two autocephalous patriarchates existing under the same “‘secular’” monarch, there was a great deal of jockeying for influence between Shio in Kutaisi and Eugenios II in Trapezous. As I intended to mention in a now-deleted update, Eugenios resents what he sees as David’s overstepping of bounds in regards to ecclesiastical life, and so is mildly opposed to David while he attempts to exert influence over Shio. Naturally, David and Shio align over their quite contest with Eugenios, and eventually become friends.
    [2] I’m not sure if this had been built yet in TTL--can’t find records from OTL--but the only alternative is the Geguti Palace a full 12 km outside the medieval town, so I’ll assume it has been.
    [3] As in OTL at this period, royal bulls would need approval by a base majority of the royal council--which was always noble-dominated--to become a true law.
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    Part LXVI: Diogenes’ Ghost (1537-1540)
  • Eparkhos

    This is an update I tried to spend a long time on, but ultimately had to rush because of prep work for a trade show this weekend and some pretty bad storms where I live. The story as it's written in my outline makes sense, but I'm not sure I managed to convey that well in the text itself. If you have any comments or criticism, please let me know,

    Part LXVI: Diogenes’ Ghost (1537-1540)

    Hegemony over Anatolia and the lands beyond had been contested between the Rhomans and the Rumites for centuries by the time of David, ever since Romanos Diogenes had been captured at Manzikert. This great struggle had raged for centuries as the Rhomans and their successors battled the Seljuks and their successors for hegemony, fighting swinging both ways but the Turks usually getting the better of it and subjecting the Rhomans to their rule. Even Trapezous herself had been forced to pay homage to Konya on more than one occasion. Never had the Rhomans forced whichever sultan held power to pay homage and submit to them, despite vast amounts of blood and treasure spent in the war for the ancient homeland. But there was a first time for everything….

    Even as Kartvelia began to heal from its long and fractious civil wars and the steppe invasion, the Qutlughid Empire was spiraling further into a war between brothers. Despite his superiority in money and manpower, Siyavash had failed to launch his promised drive on Herat in 1535, instead losing half of his army to attrition and being forced to retreat from the walls of Mashhad. This debacle had cost him tens of thousands of soldiers and much of his prestige, and his brother’s power began to wax as he waned. However, Alp Temur’s counter-stroke the following years had made it as far as Tabaristan before being halted and turned back by Siyavash, while their respective commanders battled over the roads between Isfahan and Kerman to no avail.

    With his brothers duking it out and winning nothing but piles of corpses, Mohammed Khosrau’s star began to rise. A clever and pious man, he had managed to organize his loose force of followers into a semi-legitimate army which could repel Siyavash’s punitive expeditions sent over the Zagros. Given his position in Baghdad, the possibility of declaring himself caliph and ushering in a new era of Islamic greatness was a tempting one, though he hesitated to do so before he had a consolidated victory. He transformed into a radical and hard-living man prone to fiery sermons, and soon his army swelled to the tens of thousands his brothers could raise. In 1537 he marched on Tabriz. Siyavash lacked the manpower to deal with this by himself, and wrote to the so far neutral David of Trapezous demanding aid.

    By the time this letter reached David in May 1537, the king had returned to Kutaisi. David skimmed over the letter, made sure he had read everything right, then had everyone else in the room when the messenger came before him, arrested and packed off to a remote monastery. His long dalliance in Kartvelia had two purposes: Firstly, to bind his new kingdom into his old network of realms, and secondly to make himself seem an effective and worthwhile vassal if the Qutlughids recovered. Now that it was completely clear that none of the claimants would be able to win a swift victory, it was time to take the next step in his long-term plan. He moved court back to Trapezous, ordered the bandons to prepare for marshalling the next year and sent a letter over the mountains onto the steppe….

    In the six years since he had fled into the wilds, Kadir Karaman had undergone a radical transformation. Less than a hundred men still followed him, and he recognized that if he tried to live as he previously had then they would all be killed. He became capable, if not skilled, with the sword, bow and spear, took to base fighting and wrestling and became an even better horseman than he had before. The mandarin had become Menelaus (not literally), a short but well-muscled and imposing man with a strange voice and stranger face. The remnants of the nafjayş became the foundation of the Green Company, a mercenary band that was never out of work in the chaotic world of the collapsing Golden Horde. By 1537, the Company had grown to some 2,500 strong, a second-tier power in the region.

    After Boyabad, Kadir and David had made an agreement: If either of them were to be overthrown, the other would restore them to their throne in exchange for tribute. When Kadir received David’s letter that summer stating that Ibrahim had fallen ill and his Persian doctors would be unable to treat him, he read between the lines and the Green Company abandoned their contract, marched to the nearest port and sailed for Trapezous. After a brief scare because of the arrival of two dozen unflagged ships, David welcomed Kadir into the city (but not his men, the horde of mercenaries stayed outside the walls) and they got to strategizing. Ibrahim was weak, that much was obvious, but there were a number of ways a restoration could go wrong. Kadir wasn’t exactly beloved after his one-sided war against Arslan the Great, and coupling that with support from the ancestral enemy painted a less than rosy picture. Ultimately, they decided, the best option was to muster as many Turks to their cause as they could and use them as cover for large Trapezuntine forces, giving them as high a profile as possible and to highlight the abuses the nobility performed while Ibrahim was too weak to stop them.

    That winter, as the neostrategos assembled in Trapezous or Magnesia for the next year’s campaign, Kadir’s agents slipped across the mountains. They made contact with a number of men who the deposed sultan considered loyal, and a number of them agreed to join Kadir in arms when he invaded the sultanate directly but not before. A handful of them took up arms quickly and began assembling men of their own to support their true ruler (in their minds) and waylay any efforts to intercept him. A number of them actually supported Ibrahim, but when word reached Konya the sitting sultan dithered between trying to assassinate his brother, raising an army to head him off in the passes, or fleeing into exile, spending so much time that he wound up doing none of them.

    In March 1538, just as the passes began to thaw, the Rumo-Trapezutnine army crossed the mountain. 2,000 neostrategoi and a force of 6,000 Nikaian bandonites and volunteers marched south in the far west under one Ioannes Papidis, intended to draw Ibrahimic forces away from the main offensive and to protect remnant Greek populations in the region. The main force, meanwhile, consisted of 5,000 eleutheroi, 5,000 neostrategoi, 5,000 bandonoi and 4,000 keselpatzoi[1] light cavalry under David and the Green Company under Kadir, the latter reinforced with additional mercenaries and Rumite exiles to a strength of 4,000. The total force numbered 23,000 plus cannons and their train.

    The joint army made a beeline for Sivas, the keselpatzoi ranging ahead of the main force as scouts and a sort of vanguard. David had intentionally kept the number of cavalry in his army quite low, as he planned to use a practical fleet of transport carts to ensure swift and decisive movement. Despite a bottleneck in the passes through the Pontic Mountains, this plan worked quite well. In only three weeks, they reached their first goal, arriving a full four weeks before the defenders’ (badly calculated) estimation of their arrival. The city threw open its gates at once rather than face a sack, and Kadir entered Sivas in triumph. He proclaimed his restoration as the true Sultan of Rum, and not a soul in the town dared to disagree.

    Ibrahim, meanwhile, was finally jolted into action by the loss of a major city. He called up as many men as he could, but a number of his vassals declared their neutrality in what was sure to be a brother’s war and he was able to muster only 7,000 Rumite soldiers, which he bolstered with around 4,000 Egyptian mercenary horsemen. Ibrahim was far from a skilled general, but even he could see that his brother and his foreign ally’s path would come through Kayseri, the second city of the sultanate, and moved to block them there. His logistical system was of a far poorer quality than David’s, though, and his wagon train was partly dependent on oxen, which only slowed it even further.

    David and Kadir reached Kayseri on 3 May, only three weeks after they had departed Sivas. The rather foolish governor of the neighboring Northern Taurus March had decided that picking a fight with them was an excellent idea, and though his army had crumbled and fled under the pre-battle cannonade he delayed the allies’ advance by two weeks. Kayseri had been the cornerstone of Kayqubad’s eastern defenses, and despite Ibrahim’s general incompetence it was a strong and well-defended fortress city with a garrison of several thousand. Upon arriving in the valley around the town, Kadir sent an embassy to the fortress and demanded they surrender: The delegation’s heads were shot back into camp.

    Slightly reduced in number thanks to a small force sent west to take Ankara, the Rumo-Trapezuntines laid siege, surrounding the town and pounding it with cannons from all sides. Some of the most heated fighting of the war took place on the mountains to the south of the town, as the vast importance of Mount Ali and Mount Rohotiq had been seen for generations and they were both heavily fortified. Cannons roared from the flatlands and their peaks as emplacements exchanged fire, and for several days the fate of the city was held by the mortar ball and the climber’s rope. On the night of 10 May, a group of Laz mountaineers scaled Mount Rohotiq and threw grenades into its arsenal, managing to scramble to safety before the fort erupted into a fireball. The Ponts would take the height the next day and turn to rain hell on Kayseri.

    After a month of siege, Ibrahim and his army finally arrived outside the city on June 16. The summer sun had glowed with danger before he had even departed Konya three weeks before, and because of his poor logistics he’d lost more than a thousand men to heat, thirst or just outright desertion. Nonetheless, he was determined to give battle….for now, at least. He was outnumbered by a fair bit--10,000 against 18,000--but he had to life the siege before the second city of his realm fell. Given his poor grasp of strategy and tactics, the best way he can devise to do this is to attack the enemy siege camp under nightfall and hope that surprise and the darkness allow him to pull off an upset victory.

    To Ibrahim’s credit, it almost worked. However, he had failed to account for one thing, namely that this was the most obvious thing he could do. David had dug a seven-foot deep trench around the edge of his camp, and Kadir had done the same but with sharp rocks at the bottom and a punji fence around its edge. Under the cover of darkness, Ibrahim’s army blundered into this trap and many fell to their deaths, being crushed under the feet of their comrades, and their silence turned into shouts and screaming as men and their officers tried to figure out what the hell had happened. This noise woke the allied army, and as they formed up Ibrahim sounded a call for retreat. Before they could scramble out of range, the guns on Mount Rohotiq swiveled around and drove them off with double shot.

    The following morning--18 June--the Battle of Kayseri is fought. Ibrahim’s 6,000 men--the others realized they were led by an idiot and ran for their lives the night before--assembled on the eastern side of a ridgeline to the east of the city. Ibrahim’s plan was to array his army at the edge of the slope with his cannons behind him, then fill the allies with grapeshot as they came into view. Meanwhile, the remnants of his mercenary force lay off to one side of the field in preparation for ambush. If all went well, the first few volleys would stun the enemy, then the heavy cavalry charge would panic them and allow an uphill countercharge that would shatter the numerically superior enemy. David and Kadir, meanwhile, planned for a force of mounted infantry to circle around and attack the enemy in their rear and pin them in place while mounted eleutheroi (and the rest of the army) charged over the ridgeline and smashed them.

    The resulting battle lasted for about half an hour. Before the encirclement had been completed, the main force advanced towards the ridgeline on horseback, shouting “FOR GOD AND KADIR!” or “O STAVROS NIKA!” depending on their native tongue. Their shouts and the thunder of their hooves was so loud that the morale of Ibrahim’s men broke and they ran in all directions. Few of them got very far, as the sight of the enemy running for their lives spurred the entire front to charge at full speed, running them down and trampling any survivors beneath their hooves.. Ibrahim and the cannons were both captured intact.

    With his brother in chains but still alive--after all, it wasn’t like Kadir could make male heirs himself--Kadir and David were able to take Kayseri, subject it to the usual sacking reserved for traitors, and then reassemble their army and march on the capital. Kadir swept back onto his throne within a few short weeks, and gave the agreed homage to David and Trapezous. For a short time it seemed as if he would be able to pick off where he left off, but alas, this was not to be. During Kadir’s absence, Ibrahim--out of neglect and inability rather than maliciousness--had allowed the provincial nobility to regain much of their power. Now that his brother was back and intent on restoring the prewar status quo, many of these nobility were quite put out.

    Kadir would face several small rebellions over the following years, but because of the rebels’ inability or unwillingness to band together he was able to defeat them and reform the Rumite state into a semi-functioning state. That, however, is beyond the purview of this story, as all but a few Trapezuntines had returned to their homeland. For the time being, at least….
    Part LXVII: Crusade of the Willing (1521-1540)
  • Eparkhos

    Fair warning, this wasn't written under the best of circumstances, and so I hope that getting the general ideas of the story across will suffice.

    Part LXVII: Crusade of the Willing (1521-1540)

    The century and a half of Ottoman hegemony over the Balkans had seen much of the region laid waste by its new overlords as an empire notable for its cruelty even during an age of cruel empires asserted its dominance over the existing peoples. The constant bloodshed, slavery and near-wanton violence, not to mention the on-and-off religious persecution and incessant slaving raids into the lands beyond its frontiers had made the Ottoman Empire a vast legion of enemies, and now that years of civil war and infighting had bled it nearly white, all those enemies would come against it one final time. The crows were coming home to roost on the spires of the New Palace of Mehmed[1]....

    The Second Ottoman Civil War had been a bloody and effectively pointless affair. The great armies and the expansive bureaucracy that had fired the empire’s expansion into the Balkans were ripped apart in a near-fratricidal structure, and though the Grand Vizier Ebulhayr Paşa would eventually emerge triumphant, he didn’t win much of a prize. Julius of Hnugary’s invasion in 1521 should have by all rights ended the Ottomans, but good fortune, the quality of the remaining soldiers and Ebulhayr’s skill as a leader and general had just barely managed to stave off disaster. However, they had not been able to completely defeat the Second Holy League: In the west, Joze Shkoze and the Albanians still menaced the frontier with frequent irregular raids, while to the north a new foe was emerging even as the Moldovans exited the war.

    The Bulgarians had been subjects of the Ottomans to one degree or another since the 1370s, and this had imbued them with a fiery hatred of all things Turkish and Muslim. During the civil war, the Bulgarians of Bulgaria had formed many militias and local self-defense groups to ward off marauders, as there were next to no Bulgarian converts and they were thus seen as more or less expendable by both factions of the conflict. Thus, even though the more inclusive pro-Vizier faction triumphed, the Bulgarians were left out in the cold and heavily armed. Even with their prospective Hungarian benefactor dead, they had had more than enough of Ottoman rule and refused to bend the knee for one day longer. The militias were reinforced by surviving Crusaders and other allied soldiers who were determined to go on fighting the Turks, and though they were by no means a legendary army they were still a force to be reckoned with. As the Hungarians retreated over the winter of 1522-23, they turned over the fortress town of Vidin to the Bulgarians; their de facto leader, Nikifor of Lom, proclaimed the establishment of the Third Bulgarian Empire on Orthodox Christmas, with himself as ‘regent’ for any prince or king willing to take the cross and aid them.

    Under ideal circumstances, Ebulhayr Paşa would have countermarched at once to crush Nikifor and his allies, but in ideal circumstances these were not. The Ottomans had only one surviving army, and the Rumite force crossing the Anatolian frontier was a far more dangerous enemy than some peasant rebels in Bulgaria, no matter how many letters to the west they were writing. As such, he hastily transferred his army across the straits into Asia Minor in the spring of 1523, under the watchful gaze of a Moreote squadron, and rushed south to meet Kilij Arslan’s host. However, the Vizier would have an unfortunate run-in with a bottle of poison en route--why is unknown, but likely due to an ongoing affair he was having with a married woman back in Constantinople--and with his death in June 1523 the Ottoman Empire finally and decisively entered its death spiral.

    Although Kilij Arslan would be forced to turn back by rebels back in his own sultanate, the Sultanate’s enemies pressed in from the north and west without relief. While the Moreotes and Moldovans had both been nominally bought off, in practice they were more than happy to kick the Turks while they were down, not to mention the ongoing war with Albania and Bulgaria. After Ebulhayr Paşa’s death, a rotating series of viziers took power, with a total of nine holding power between 1523 and 1540, and in this period of rampant instability there was little that the Ottomans could do to ward off their many enemies.

    With quiet Moldovan support, Nikifor of Lom’s forces swept eatwards across the Danubian Plain. The ravages of the civil war had killed most of the region’s Turks or driven them into easily-isolated fortress towns, and the Ottomans in Bulgaria proper were hopelessly outnumbered. A dozen small battles were fought between 1523 and 1529, when the Turks were finally and permanently driven across the mountains, the largest of them pitting less than 3,000 Turks against 10,000 Bulgarians, Crusaders and Moldovans. With the Turks safely expelled, Bogdan then openly took the throne of Bulgaria, expanding his control south of the river and giving himself a number of additional ports on the Black Sea in one fell sweep. However, he limited himself to Varna and the Balkan Mountains, citing their use as a nature defense but secretly fearing that further expansion would make it impossible for him to properly govern his new conquests.

    Meanwhile, the Moreotes were also exploiting the Ottomans’ dramatic misfortune, although in a far more cautious manner. Having only recently been a small Ottoman vassal, their ruler, Konstantinos I Palaiologos, was inclined to be quite cautious in his dealings with them, and was already having difficulty absorbing the new conquests in Thessaly. Nonetheless, a great number of ‘pirates’ operating out of Moreote ports appeared in the Aegean in the years after Ebulhayr Paşa’s death, and independent Greek forces began to move into the Giannitsa swamps in hopes of securing the plains west of Thessaloniki before the Albanians could get to them. In 1532, at the behest of the city’s Ottoman governor and after years of loose, irregular (and thus deniable) siege, a Moreote ‘protection force’ entered Thessaloniki in what was a triumphal procession in all but name. However, the bonanza for the Moreotes would end here, as Konstantinos’ slippage into senility prompted an internal civil war over the regency that would delay further expansion.

    By far, though, the most steadfast, capable and provocative foe of the Sublime Porte throughout this period was Shkoze and his Albanians. Within a few short years he had risen from a bandit to a king, and now the former slave was eying hegemony over all the Balkans as well--in the name of Christ, of course.

    Demographically speaking, Albania was almost completely irrelevant--its total population was roughly the same as the population of non-Turkish Muslims in the Ottoman Sultanate--but the Albanians were by now one of the most experienced groups of soldiers in Europe and had a society practically geared around warfare. Most importantly, Shkoze was aware of his country’s small population size, and was willing to bring foreign groups into a ruling coalition of sorts to ensure the destruction of the Ottomans. If nothing else, he was a good general and a charismatic leader, and was able to fold the many disparate groups of the Balkans into a coalition unified by a general hatred towards the Turks. Under most circumstances, such a thing would have collapsed in flames within weeks of its first creation, but Shkoze was able to keep it together, welding dozens of groups together into a third and final Holy League (in the Balkans, anyway), a crusade of all those who were willing.

    The War of the Third Holy League (1525-1540) would be difficult to show on a map, as it was not a war of pitched battles and sieges but of raids and ambuscades in the mountains and villages of the highlands. Despite the Ottomans’ increasing weakness, there was a very real chance the smaller armies which Shkoze was forced to use could be caught out and destroyed piecemeal if the Ottomans caught them in the field, so the Albanians intentionally avoided pitched battles, favoring irregular tactics. Holy League light cavalry or infantry would advance through the narrow valleys and highland paths of the Vlach shepherds that roamed the Macedonian and Thracian mountains, slipping around fortresses and armies to attack the underbelly of the Ottoman state, the Balkan Muslims, where they were most vulnerable. They would attack without warning in the twilight, thundering down from the mountain to kill or enslave all Muslims, massacre non-Muslims suspected of supporting the Ottomans and then parse their possessions out to the others before disappearing back into the mountains. It was a fairly quiet war, a creeping war that the Ottomans were wholly unprepared to fight, and gradually everything beyond a chain of walled cities and fortified garrisons were lost to Constantinople. The Ottomans weren’t stupid, of course, they realized what was happening, but constant infighting limited their efforts, and it was nigh-on-impossible to fight an irregular, highly mobile force in the rough country of the southern Balkans. The few armies that were both large enough and willing to take the offensive against the few strongholds which the Holy League occupied in Ottoman lands were stalked through the mountains, worn down in running battles before chains of ambushes fell upon them, shattering the demoralized and exhausted columns and putting them to flight. By the end of the first phase of the war in 1532, Ottoman control barely extended past the walls of their increasingly isolated cities.

    To the desperate, downtrodden refugees that huddled inside the walls of Muslim strongholds, their ramparts must have been a blessed relief against the terrors that had stalked their nights for years now. In truth, thought, they were cages. Shkoze and his allies had spent years hounding all those who opposed them out of the countryside and into the cities, where they could be pinned up and slowly starved into submission. Now that that had been done, the rest was relatively simple. Taking a page from the Ottomans’ own conquest of Byzantine Anatolia, the Albanians and their allies would lay siege to the fortress towns two or three at a time, not pressing the wall with camps and cannons but instead camping in the hills surrounding the town and attacking anyone who tried to come or leave. If an Ottoman force too large to be successfully ambushed with complete certainty of victory approached the town, they would wait for them to either leave or dig in, at which point they would continue their attacks. Already stretched thin--armies of Orthodox soldiers had a tendency to turn into armies of Orthodox rebels if not paid regularly, an increasingly difficult task for the Porte--this was a devastatingly effective tactic, and the Ottomans spread themselves thin trying to stamp them out only to be gradually ground down from all sides. One by one, the cities fell, and the Ottomans were driven back towards Constantinople. Skopje was the first major city to fall in 1526, while the first city to be taken by long siege was Sofiya in 1534: By 1538, the Ottomans had lost all of their European holdings except for Burgas, Gallipoli and everything east of the hastily rebuilt Anastasian Long Wall.

    Of course, the Ottomans did try to fight back, but it was difficult to do so when they were already drowning under foreign attacks. They sent out many armies to try and drive the attackers back, but most were either waylaid or had to run back and forth across a hostile countryside trying to ward off attacks on a half-dozen towns at once. There was one major pitched battle, though, the Battle of Edirne in 1534. The sitting vizier, one Sinan Ahmed Paşa, knew that Shkoze had to be stopped now, before the Ottomans lost any chance to do so, and managed to convince his domestic rivals to put aside their differences and raise as large a force as possible. Edirne, the former capital, was on the verge of being taken, and its loss would be an immense morale defeat. Sinan Ahmed Paşa managed to assemble 7,000 men of varying quality in Constantinople in May and marched on Edirne, hoping to force a pitched battle and turn the tide of the war. Enroute, they encountered supply difficulties and delays due to constant harassment, and the vizier considered that at least he would get a straight battle.

    And a battle he would recieve. On the night of 26 June, the army camped in a semi-fortified defensive position within sight of the walls of Edirne, likely hoping to draw out the Albanians. Shortly before midnight, the night exploded into fire as the camp’s gunpowder stores were set alight and dark figures burst into the camp to hurl firebrands amongst the tents. Just as soon as they appeared they were gone, but the resulting chaos killed or maimed a few hundred Muslims and left the survivors demoralized. The battle proper began the following morning, as the vizier led his army out along the road towards Edirne and found the path blocked by a force of heavy infantry. Without their gunpowder, ranged combat was impossible, and the small force of heavy cavalry in the Ottoman army led the charge forward to try and clear the road. Now that they were properly strung out and demoralized, Shkoze struck. Cavalry and infantry exploded out of the hedgerows along the road, catching the Ottomans completely off-guard and ripping them to shreds, sending any who survived fleeing back down the road to the camp; it did them no good, and all but a handful of officers were slaughtered. Edirne surrendered a few hours later.

    By 1538, the Ottomans had their back up against the wall. They still held territories on the eastern shore of the Aegean, although they were under increasing attack from the Moreotes, Venetians and Rumite exiles, but their holdings in Europe were all but gone. That autumn, Shkoze’s main army of around 8,000 and his many, many captured cannons blasted their way through the walls of Thrace just as a smaller force did the same against Gelibolu. The war had finally come to Constantinople itself. For the next year and a half, the Holy League pressed the walls of the City of Constantine, pounding them with cannonade around the clock. However, Mehmed’s reinforcements did their job well and held against the bombardment more or less intact, and the ferocity of the refugee Greek Muslims, who refused to be driven from their homes once again, drove back attacks on the walls and attempts to dig under the walls. The defenders were fed by grain and joined by reinforcements from Anatolia, and without a way to close the Marmora to the Turks it seemed that Shkoze had no way of truly winning. Another miracle of the House of Osman seemed to be unfolding, as volunteers from Rumite territory and mercenaries from Syria and Egypt came to join the defence. Shkoze’s coalition, meanwhile, which had only been kept together by his charisma and success, was beginning to splinter over this sudden, final failure to take the City of the World’s Desire.

    Then, in May 1541, Trapezuntine sails appeared on the Bosphorus….

    [1] Better known as the Topkapi Palace, which it was renamed to in the 1800s.
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